Photo credit: starling by Eleanor Bentall

It’s National Nest Box Week! With so many of us seeking solace in nature to help lift our spirits through lockdown, lots of you are asking us how you can encourage birds to nest in your gardens this year.

Nest boxes have huge benefits for some of our struggling garden species and we know that watching our feathered friends raise new families can provide hours of enjoyment too, so we’ve put together a simple guide to understanding, creating and protecting your local nesting habitats below.

Protect the natural nest sites you already have in your garden 

  Photo credit: hedge nest by Ben Andrew

This is the time of year where we start thinking about spring cleans; tidying those hedges, sorting out the guttering and making our homes look fresh and new…but many birds return home to the same place year on year and what might seem a mess to us, can be the perfect home to them!

  • Hedgerows, trees and bushes can become homes to nesting birds like long tailed tits and house sparrows far earlier than you think. Both can start nesting as early as February so by cutting back on the cutting back this spring, you can protect these early nests.

  • Wrens and robins sometimes seek out the safety of a cosy shed, so if you spot birds regularly darting in and out, be careful not to disturb or block access to any nests that might be hidden in strange places, like behind plant pots or in watering cans. If you want to incorporate a nest watch in to home-schooling too, you could even place a nest cam nearby if you are careful!

  • Leave those eaves alone! House martins and swallows often reuse nests constructed under the eaves of homes and outbuildings when they return. What might look like a messy mound under the eaves can give you hours of pleasure when the spring migrants come home to breed and they will help pick off the flying insects around your garden to feed hungry chicks in return!

Putting up new nest boxes

 Photo credit: spotted flycatcher by Andy Hay

  • House sparrows, starlings, spotted flycatchers and swifts all need our help as their breeding numbers are falling, so add installing some nest boxes to your list of spring chores, to ensure that they still soar through our skies for years to come. Why not try making your own during lockdown, with our handy how to guides?

  • Each species will have very particular nesting needs, so do your research and ensure that the nest box is made using safe materials, is suited to the species you are trying to attract and is fixed securely and safely to protect birds from rain, full sun and any predators.

  • Don’t have a garden? Invest in a community nest instead! Some rarer birds including barn owls, peregrines, willow tits and even turtle doves might be encouraged to nest nearby over time, if you help provide the right conditions though nest boxes, urban ledges, dead wood and thick, healthy hedges! Locations, Location Location is key though! Work out which rare species your local habitats can help support by getting involved with volunteering at your local RSPB reserve, or working with other local community conservation groups.

Keeping nests safe in the wider countryside

  Photo credit: nest protection by Ben Andrew

While there is lots of awareness around the need for nest boxes, many people don’t realise that some birds nest right at our feet! Heathlands, farmlands, moorlands, meadows and shingle shores can all be vitally important places for some of our most threatened ground nesting birds, like nightjar, little terns, skylarks and hen harriers.

  • When restrictions ease and we start to venture out more, keeping dogs on leads and sticking to footpaths while exploring the countryside can help to give these birds the space they need to breed.

  • Watch out for odd bird behaviour (alarm calls, flying closer than usual, adult birds trying to get your attention) These help give you an early warning if you are too close to a nest. If that happens, back away and find an alternative route.

  • Record and report – There may be fewer people out recording new nest sites this year, so if you do find a rare species nesting near you, please report this to your local recorder or ornithological society, so that protections can be put in place if needed. Don’t be tempted to share this amazing news on social media either! Sharing the exact location of a breeding species can put the nest under lots of pressure from visitors and attract predators too, so to be safe, save sharing your findings on social media until all chicks have fledged