A tale of two boxes

When we moved to our current flat in Grassington a couple of years ago, I brought along one of the bird nesting boxes from our former home.  It’s a contraption made of ‘woodcrete’ – a mix of wood chippings and concrete – very heavy, but also very durable.

The box was fixed to an outhouse in the garden of our previous house and several generations of blue tits and great tits were raised in it, so I know it works!

For the past two years or so, however, it has sat reproachfully on the concrete patio and, every time I see it, I feel a twinge of guilt.  Putting it up is just one of those jobs I haven’t quite got around to doing.

A tree sparrow using a nest box in Embsay (Ian Platt)
A tree sparrow using a nest box in Embsay (Ian Platt)

As a house warming gift for the new place, my brother-in-law gave us a very smart RSPB-logoed wooden nestbox.  In contrast to its concrete counterpart, I was quite quick putting that one up.  It only languished in the cardboard packaging it came in for six months or so before I found the time to fix it to the garden fence.

The wooden box has been in place for one nesting season already, but it failed to attract the interest of a single bird at all last year.  The explanation I think for its lack of success so far is to do with location.  I have managed to choose one of the most exposed parts of the garden for its position and fixed the box so that the entrance hole faces directly into the prevailing wind and weather.

This dawned on me on one particularly foul day when, staring out of the patio window (as you do), I noticed the sleet being blown into the nestbox!

Bird boxes in Hepdendale, Hawes
Bird boxes in Hepdendale, Hawes

Why am I telling you of my abject failure with these bird boxes?  Because, starting yesterday (Valentine’s Day), this week is annual National Nestbox Week.

This has been running since 1997 and usually attracts quite a lot of publicity at this time of year.  So, if any readers feel inspired to get involved, they can do no better than to learn from my mistakes.  Here are a few tips to be gleaned from my poor example:

  • Woodcrete is an excellent material for nestboxes, but boxes made from this or any other stuff are only any good if you actually put them up.
  • If your garden isn’t shaded by surrounding trees or buildings, it’s best to angle the entrance hole in a northerly or easterly direction as these usually face away from prevailing wind and rain, or, if you can’t do this, plant some strategically placed shrubs or climbers to give the box a bit of protection.
  • My woodcrete box has a removable panel on the front that allows one to clean it out once nesting has finished. My only quibble with our wooden box is that there’s no lid or hatch to allow cleaning.
An artificial eaves nest for a housemartin
An artificial eaves nest for a housemartin

I am determined to make a better job this year of attracting birds into our garden to nest.  I will let you know how I get on in future columns. There are many more tips on how to help garden birds on the official National Nestbox Week website.

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