We’re just starting to see a few early signs of spring… the first queen bee of the year buzzes past your ear, woodpeckers are drumming and you can hear the first few notes of bird song.

As we approach Valentine’s Day and are thinking about romance, so too are the birds, who are sensing the onset of spring and are thinking about finding a mate, setting up a home and raising a family. National Nest Box Week now takes place every year from 14 – 21 February and encourages everyone to get involved, so this is a great time to put up a nest box to help our breeding birds and also give you the chance to enjoy watching them.

You’ll often be more successful in attracting nesting birds into your garden if you start early, giving the birds more time to find your nest box, investigate it and assess its suitability.  Like us they go house hunting! 

If you set up a nestbox in your garden, one of the most likely occupants will be a blue tit. Tits are regularly seen hammering away at the entrance hole of a nestbox. This is probably a form of display by the male, rather than an attempt to enlarge the hole. Later, the female will also peck vigorously - this may help her to judge how soft the wood is and whether the hole will provide a safe, predator-proof home in which to raise her brood. Blue tits will favour a 'classic' design nestbox with a small hole in the front - a 25 mm hole is ideal for blue tits but a 32 mm hole will make the box suitable for great tits, house sparrows and others.

  

Blue tit by Chris Prince

If you live near the woodland, you might be lucky enough to give a home to a nuthatch; slate-blue on the back, chestnut under the tail and a black bandit mask across its eyes. Nuthatches don’t excavate their own nest holes but are expert plasterers, gathering mud or dung to reshape and resize the hole. In woodland they might customise a hole previously used by great spotted woodpeckers, but they will use nestboxes too.

 

Nuthatch by Chris Prince

For others, constructing a nest requires considerably more dedication and skill. The male wren for example has his work cut out; he weaves up to half a dozen nests out of moss, grass and feathers and then awaits his choosy female partner who will inspect his work and choose the one in which she will lay her clutch of precious eggs. Wrens will use nestboxes - choose an open fronted design, sited low down and with plenty of cover from vegetation - so you'd be giving that poor busy male wren a bit of a helping hand!

Wren by Phil Thornton

But the bird who should be the envy of any construction worker is the long-tailed tit. Their glorious, egg shaped nest is fashioned from moss, lichen and spider’s silk, taking several weeks to build. The nest is then lined with as many as two thousand feathers. As well as the comfort of a feather mattress, the chicks then have a nest that will stretch and flex as they grow – perfect!

 

Long tailed tit by Graham Osborne

Whilst some are expert builders, others are decorators. Red kites are becoming a more frequent sight drifting on the thermals as they now nest and breed on the Downs. Kites are scavengers, not just for food but for items they can use to embellish their nests. Apparently they have a predilection for underwear, so if anything goes missing from your washing line, look to the skies!

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