Providing natural nest sites

Blue tit in natural nest hole. Photo by Amy Lewis.

While some garden birds, such as collared doves and starlings, normally roost in trees, many of the smaller birds prefer the shelter provided by shrubs and hedges, especially those with a dense branch structure.

Conifers and evergreen shrubs will give protection against cold winds in the winter. These plants will also provide nest sites for many birds, as will some of the more vigorous climbing plants such as clematis, ivy and honeysuckle.

Pruning and hedge cutting should be delayed until late summer, when young birds will have fledged. Hedgerows and shrubs bearing berries should not be cut back until late winter or after the berries have been eaten. 

Garden nesting

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Great tit in nest box by Gillian DayGreat tit in nest box by Gillian Day

Make a home for garden birds by building and putting up a nest box. This is a simple way to help our garden wildlife survive and thrive because they can be used as winter roosts before nesting starts in the spring.

No wildlife garden is complete without at least one nest box, and even without a garden, nest boxes attached to buildings may be used by birds such as house sparrows, starlings or blue tits.

Nest boxes

Building a nest box. Photo by Amy Lewis.Many of our garden birds nest or roost in trees. These days, most old or dying trees and branches are simply cut down and removed. This leaves far fewer places for birds to nest and raise their young.

Specially-constructed nest boxes imitate the habitat lost by the removal of dead standing wood and are helpful to garden birds. As building a nest box is not difficult, this can make a simple but significant contribution to the preservation of our wildlife.

Top tips for nest boxes

Pied flycatcher at nestbox. Photo by Scott Petrek.

  • The easiest birds to attract to nest boxes are the hole-nesting species such as blue and great tits. 
  • Boxes with an entry hole 25mm in diameter will be used by coal, marsh and blue tits, while a larger hole of 28cm will give access to tree sparrows and great tits. A hole of 32mm will be suitable for house sparrows and nuthatches.
  • Open-sided boxes will be used by robins, spotted flycatchers, pied wagtails and wrens.
  • Use untreated wood at least 15mm thick, as it provides better insulation and lasts longer.
  • Make sure your design includes an easy way to clean out the nest box at the end of the year - a hinged lid is the most common way of doing this.
  • Early winter is the best time to put nest boxes up - many species select nest sites early in the year.
  • If a box is not used after two years, try moving it to a different location.
  • Nest boxes should be sited in places where they will be away from disturbance by humans and cats, and away from bird feeders so that nesting birds do not have to defend their territory from other birds seeking food.
  • Be creative - an old kettle in a hedge with the spout pointing downwards can make a perfect nest site for robins. However, if you do use unconventional items, ensure they are safe and can't, for example, fill with water.

Provide nesting materials

Top tip:
Create a nesting bundle. Ball up your materials and hang them from a tree. You can use an old whisk to hold it all together, or tie it together with wool.

Help birds build their nests! Put out nesting materials, such as pet hair and wool, for birds to find and use during the nesting season. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Wool
  • Straw
  • Dry grass
  • Feathers
  • Down from old pillows
  • String
  • Hair from combs and brushes
  • Shed hair from cats and dogs
  • Threads
  • Small, thin strips of cloth

Animal Rescue

If you have an injured animal or bird, please call either:

RSPCA: 0300 1234999

St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital: 01844 292292

Buy bird food from Vine House Farm

Feeding garden birds by northeastwildlife.co.uk

Vine House Farm is no ordinary bird food supplier. The farm is managed in a wildlife-friendly way and as much bird food as possible is grown in the local area and packaged on-site.

What’s more, 5% of every purchase made by a customer living in our area is donated to BBOWT.

To order online, visit the Vine House Farm website or telephone 01775 63020.

Help the bees

Bee by Gilliane Sills

Bumblebees and honey bees are declining in the UK, endangering the food chains that depend on them. We can all help reverse this trend.

Find out how