National Nest Box Week 2019 (NNBW) starts today, 14 February. Why not take part by erecting a nest box in your garden or (with the landowners permission) a local greenspace? Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. This is especially true in urban areas and it’s making it tough for species whose numbers are in decline like House Sparrow (-35%) , Starling (-74%) and Swift (-51%) .
If you’re not sure how to go about it, to help us all celebrate NNBW the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has produced a new ‘essential guide’, full of useful information on i) what to look for when buying a nest box, ii) box placement and iii) looking after a box longer term. The free guide is available from firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team on 01842-750050.
Here in East Glamorgan, to celebrate National Nest Box Week, the Glamorgan Bird Club is organising a nest box making event at Kenfig National Nature Reserve on Saturday, 16 February. If you’d like to join in, please meet the team at the Kenfig Visitor Centre workshop at 9 a.m.
The simple act of putting up a nest box can make a real difference for our birds, providing them with the space they need to raise a family. Taking part in NNBW gives you the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box. What’s not to like?
14 February marks the start of the 20th annual National Nest Box Week, organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Putting up a nest box or two during the week can provide not only a nesting site for a number of species but, if you also spend a little bit of time monitoring the outcome of your occupied boxes, even just one box, you could also make a valuable contribution to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme.
Many of us will have at least one nest box in our gardens and, if we’re lucky enough to have it occupied, we delight in watching the adult birds tirelessly feeding their young. Best of all is seeing newly fledged chicks from the box and feeling that you have helped nature in some way. Thanks to the support of the Glamorgan Bird Club (GBC) I’ve been able to take this one step further and erect several nest boxes in areas outside my own garden.
Coinciding with National Nest Box Week, GBC holds a nest box making session at Kenfig NNR every February using timber kindly donated by Topstak. The Club donates these boxes to various bodies including local schools, Welsh children’s hospice Tŷ Hafan and, since 2014, it has kindly given a number of boxes to me. These boxes, in addition to those donated by RSPB Cymru, have enabled me to establish a small ‘nest box scheme’ in Coryton and Radyr near Cardiff.
GBC will be holding a Nest Box Making Workshop at Kenfig NNR on Saturday, 18 February at 9 a.m. If you want to build a box for your back garden or you already have, or want to create your own, nest box scheme why not go along?
I’m delighted to say that birds clearly admire the GBC’s and RSPB’s carpentry skills with the last three years having the following occupancy rates: 14 of 15 boxes (2014); 15 of 16 (2015) and 23 of 24 (2016). As you’d expect, the occupants are almost always Blue or Great Tits, although a Nuthatch did fledge 6 young from a box in Coryton in 2016.
I monitor each box for the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) which gathers vital information on the breeding success of Britain’s birds, always adhering to the Scheme’s strict Code of Conduct to ensure that I do not affect the outcome of the nest. This means that I visit each box c.4-6 times a season to ascertain its history: whether it was successful or not (and, if it was unsuccessful, at what stage did it fail); the date on which the first egg was laid in each box; the maximum clutch size; the maximum number of chicks hatched and the number of chicks fledged.
Even though I’ve only been monitoring these boxes for three years, the information gathered is fascinating. I’ve extracted some of the data for Blue Tit and placed them in the table below. (*A “successful nest” is one which fledged at least on juvenile).
Earliest egg date
Total no. of eggs
Av. no. of eggs per box
Total number of pulli
Total number fledged
Av. no. fledged per nest
Even from such a small sample, it appears that Blue Tits have had some challenging breeding seasons locally between 2014-16. The species only has one brood a year (rarely 2) and lays on average 8-10 eggs. As you can see, the egg totals in my boxes in 2014-15 are within that average range, but numbers in most nests were below average in 2016. What is worrying is that the fledging rate is so low: an average of only 4.3 juvs in 2016. One thing I have noticed is that there is a very fine line between success and failure. Just a day or two of wet weather at the wrong time can lead to significant chick mortality and nest failure. I saw this happen in 2014 and again in 2016 and it’s remarkable how my records at a local level were replicated across the UK.
The BTO’s preliminary report on the 2016 breeding season shows that, during the critical period when several bird species were nesting, temperatures were low and rainfall high, affecting the availability of the caterpillars and grubs they rely on to feed their chicks. The number of chicks produced by Blue Tits nationally in 2016 was down by 31% relative to the five-year average (2011–15).
Why not give it a go?
Monitoring these nestboxes for the NRS has been absolutely fascinating. It has added a new dimension to my birding and given me a real insight into the lives of Blue and Great Tits. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to do it for many years and be able to learn so much more from comparing my records over a longer period of time. I’d recommend to all birders marking National Nest Box Week by erecting a nest box or two and monitoring them, no matter what your skill level. The BTO really does need the records from your nest boxes. You don’t have to visit them 4-6 times in a season. Even records from two visits provide the BTO with useful data. If you’re interested, please visit www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nrs for more information or get in touch with me. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
There was a popular belief in England and France during the Middle Ages that birds started to look for their mates on February 14, Valentine’s Day. The reason for this assumption is not clear but it might be related to the fact that the first songbirds, after a long winter, started to sing sometime in mid-February. One of the earliest written examples of this belief (above) was penned by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340/45-1400), in his “Parliament of Fowls,” the literal meaning of which is “Meeting of Birds.”
Here in the 21st Century, with this avian connection to Valentine’s Day and the notional beginning of birds’ breeding season, it’s a great reason to celebrate February 14 as the start of the BTO’s National Nest Box Week (NNBW).
Why take part?
Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. Getting out your hammer and a few nails and taking part and erecting a nest box or two during NNBW gives you the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box.
How to take part
If you visit the BTO’s National Nest Box Week webpage you’ll find all the information you need. You can register for your free NNBW information pack; find out how to make a nest box or (if like me you’re useless at DIY), where you can buy a ready-made box; how and where to put up your nest box and, if you like, how to safely monitor your nest box and provide the BTO with valuable information about the birds using it.
The satisfaction you feel when your nest box is used, when you see the parents busily feeding the chicks and when you finally see them fledge is great. Give it a go!