Bird boxes are a great way to give birds a safe place to nest, and encourage birds into your garden. Here are some top tips for finding the best spot for your bird box and looking after it so that it can provide the best home for birds for years ahead.
When finding a good spot to put your bird box you need to think about where is the safest and most comfortable place for your birds to nest successfully. Here are a few tips to help you choose;
• Space – bird boxes should not be too close together.
• Direction – make sure the box is in a sheltered place, to protect from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight.
• Shelter – the front of the box needs to be angled vertically or slightly downwards to prevent rain getting in!
• Height – small hole boxes should be put about 1 – 3 metres above the ground on a tree trunk, making sure there is no foliage hiding the entrance hole. If you don’t have any trees where you can put your box, the next best option is to put your box on the side of a shed or wall.
• Predators – try and make sure the box cannot be disturbed by potential predators including cats and squirrels!
• Protection – fitting metal plates around the box entrance hole is one way to deter squirrels from getting inside the box.
• Feeders – don’t place the bird box to close to a bird feeder or bird table because there will be lots of bird activity which may disturb the nesting birds.
• When to put your box up – put your box up as soon as possible, the longer it is up the more chance it has of attracting visitors. The best time to put up your box is at the beginning of February as birds will start nesting at the end of the month.
• Attaching your box – use galvanized or stainless steel screws or nails that will not rust. If you are fixing your bird box to a tree you can use wire to tie the box to the trunk or hang from a branch.
Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Water is particularly important during the winter when natural supplies may be frozen and in dry, hot weather during the summer when water can be hard to find. By putting a bird bath in your garden it will not only attract birds into your garden but give them a place to bath and drink. Remember to keep your bird bath clean to help prevent birds catching any diseases.
By providing both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by a host of different birds. Here are some ideas for food you can put out and which ones to avoid;
The best seed mixes will include plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules, but try to avoid seed mixes that have split peas, beans or dried rice or lentils because only the larger birds can eat them dry
Black sunflower seeds
Peanuts (not salted or dry roasted ones)
Bird cake and food bars
Live foods and insects (mealworms)
Dog and cat food (though remember pet food can attract larger birds such as magpies and gulls, and also neighbourhood cats. If this is likely to be a problem, it is best avoided)
Uncooked porridge oaks
Soaked dog biscuits (though make sure they don’t dry out)
Cooked rice (brown or white without salt)
Cooking fat because it attracts bacteria which is bad for birds
Mould or stale food
Polyunsaturated margarines and vegetable oil – raw suet or lard is better!
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Once the breeding season is over around October time, you can clean out your bird boxes. When cleaning out bird boxes it is advisable to wear surgical gloves and a dust mask. Old nests may harbour fungi growing on damp nest material, which can cause respiratory diseases and the also house a variety of parasites such as fleas, lice and ticks. It is best, when removing the old nest to put this straight into a plastic bag and seal if before disposal. To clean the box, use boiling water to kill any remaining parasites and let the box dry out thoroughly before replacing the lid. Do not use any type of insecticide or flea power as this will be harmful for future residents. Any unhatched eggs in the box should be disposed of, though this can only be done legally between August and January.
Try to avoid inspecting your nest boxes when they are in use, however tempting it may be to take a peek! Instead try watching them from a distance. Only open up your box if you have had the right training and are taking part in a monitoring project. If you follow all the tips above you will have a good chance of your box being used, though sometimes boxes will stay empty for no apparent reason. Please be patient, if after a few years your box has still not been used, trying putting it in a different spot.
If you place a handful of clean hay or wood shavings (not straw) in the box once it is thoroughly dry after cleaning, small mammals may hibernate there or birds may use it as nesting material!
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