It’s definite. Blue tits have adopted our nest-box, and keep ducking in and out in the most promising manner. Over the years our box has usually been occupied. However, last year was we thought no-one had moved in. We were wrong. When I came to scald out the box at the end of the season to get rid of parasites, I found an almost completed cup, moulded together from moss, bits of grass, unidentifiable fur and scraps of feather. A pair of great tits had obviously been busy, yet, although the box is in sight of both dining and sitting room windows, we’d never seen them at it.
Birds are, understandably, extremely wary when nest building, avoiding the surveillance of both predators and bird watchers alike. Just wait till leaves fall or we cut the hedge at the end of the season. It’s amazing how often we find songbirds’ nests cunningly concealed within. And how beautiful they are! Designed to keep the eggs together, warm and safe, these cups of moss, grass, hair, feathers and, in the case of long-tailed tits, cobwebs, are woven together and moulded into shape so quickly and so secretly, veritable works of art. I remember watching chaffinches putting the finishing touches to their nest built into a fold of a tree branch over the river. The female was nestling into it, wriggling gently to perfect the shape as the male added touches of grey lichen to complete the camouflage.
Of course, not all birds need to be so secretive. Rooks are noisily busy now, protected from predators in their treetop rookeries with all those sharp eyes. Their vigilance is mainly needed to protect their sticks from thieving neighbours! And not all birds make such elaborate structures: the bulky wood pigeon’s nest is a flimsy affair of twigs on which its two glossy white eggs are balanced. They’ll be there now, I guess. Pigeon eggshells are usually the first I find, blowing over the garden in late March.
Whatever their habits, this is a busy and stressful time for birds. We can help – by keeping clear of nest sites and, perhaps, offering materials. Birds are great opportunists: long-tails scour our window frames for cobwebs and see the headless pigeon corpse on the lawn as a useful source of feathers. So – combings from pets, fluff from dusters, a little softened clay if it gets dry – every little helps!