Wild Bird Seed - nest boxes
The next step to feeding wild birds in your garden is to get them to move in and live there. Nest boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes suitable for different wild birds, and are basically a box with a small hole, and with a lid to give access to the inside for cleaning.
The RSPB has a huge selection of ready-made nest boxes which can be bought online and delivered by post. Or you could try building your own if you are a DIY enthusiast, you might find this site helpful. Another good source for ready-made wild bird nest boxes is here.
Fix the box on a tree or wall close to the house if possible so you can observe the comings and goings. It has to be well off the ground out of reach of all predators such as rats or squirrels, and the size of hole depends on the size of bird you wish to attract. Birds will nest in a box with a hole just large enough for them as this means larger birds can't get in, so the young are safe.
Blue Tits, Marsh Tits and Coal Tits need a hole 25mm in diameter, Great Tits, Pied Flycatchers and Tree Sparrows need one 28mm diameter, and House Sparrows and Nuthatches need one of 32mm.
The nest box illustrated on the right is an ideal type to make at home. As you can see, it is simple in construction, being made from a pine plank sawed into pieces which are screwed together in a rough cube shape and with a piece of trim from a log with the bark still on as a roof. It isn't essential to line the hole with metal, but keep an eye on it and if it becomes worn, remember birds will only nest where they can just fit through, so you may lose the usual occupants if the opening becomes enlarged with use. Also, if the hole becomes too large, it could become vulnerable to predators like squirrels making it unsafe for small birds and their chicks, or woodpeckers might enlarge it and move in.
Warm and dry in winter, but cool in summer and fit for young chicks, the Schwegler 1B was the Official Nest Box of National Nest Box Week, and has delivered higher occupancy rates of small birds than any others. It has a 25 year guarantee - something no other make has.
For those on a restricted budget who would still like to see wild birds feeding and nesting in their garden, this is a budget priced one for only £4.99.
A nest box for small birds is best fixed high in a tree or on a wall between 2–5 metres (6–16 feet) above ground, out of reach of cats, rats and squirrels.
Protect the hole from prevailing winds and direct sunlight by positioning correctly away from them. If no trees naturally provide this shelter, the hole should face N to S-E. Unless it has a good overhang roof [see picture on right], the box should tilt slightly forwards so that rain runs away from the hole. If you fix it to a tree, tie using wire or leather so you don't damage the tree with nails or screws. If fixing to a wall, use masonry 'rawplugs' and brass screws which won't rust. Ensure it is fixed securely and does not wobble.
Some species have more than one brood, so when the first brood fledges and leaves, don't remove the old nest immediately as the parents might still return to raise another. Only remove old nest material 3 or 4 weeks after the chicks have fledged and flown, be sure to remove any dead nestlings when spotted.
The nest box should be cleaned out thoroughly in autumn, and unhatched eggs may only be removed between September and January and must be destroyed - it is illegal to keep birds eggs.
Sterilise the box by washing it with boiling water or veterinary disinfectant to kill infectious or parasitic organisms that may be present. If you forget to do this in autumn, late January is best time to clean it out ready for the next spring's brood.
An unusual place for a nest
This below is a derelict antique farm diesel pump that's seen better days.
Having seen a tit dart into it via the small rust hole marked with arrow above, and in close-up below
This is what we found when we looked inside
If only we had had a nestbox camera