Saint Valentine’s Day is traditionally when birds pair up, though actually I’ve noticed that many of the bullfinches, chaffinches, tits and collared doves that visit our garden are already paired, and herons, those early nesters, may well be incubating eggs by now. To further boost the Spring feeling, this week is National Nest-box Week, and you can find lots of information about it on the BTO website. It’s important to realise that many garden birds are already checking out nest sites well before the season really kicks off in late March or April. A pair of blue tits started investigating our box weeks ago – at first just peeping in, then one bird disappearing inside for a couple of minutes while its mate waited on a nearby twig.
Nest sites are at a premium these days. Many hedges and thickets have disappeared from the countryside and building practices change – with fewer old stone outbuildings, and with houses buttoned up now with plastic fascia boards, leaving fewer snug nooks and crannies. So it’s not just blue tits that need our help. You can get nest boxes in a whole range of sizes and styles to entice a whole range of species. If you’ve a largish garden with a mature tree or two why not put up a long, open fronted box to provide both a roost and nest site for tawny or, if you were very lucky, barn owls? On a more modest scale, you can get an open-fronted box suitable for robins. I have one on a trellis, partly screened by ivy. Robins used it one year; subsequently it’s served as a dry store for seeds collected either by an enterprising mouse or, possibly, a coal tit. House sparrows have suffered particularly from our passion for home improvements but you can make amends with boxes for them too. They are colonial nesters so you need to place three or four close together to be really attractive.
We can make a small contribution to nest materials too. A friend ensures the swallows nesting in his shed have suitably moist clay even in the driest Spring by providing a muddy patch for them to collect it from. If you have pet dogs or cats, the combings from their shedding winter coats makes soft nest-lining. Our resident pair of long-tailed tits regularly help themselves to cobwebs from our window frames – no effort required on our part and wonderful close-up views of the foragers!
Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Photo by Johntex (Johntex) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons