Choosing a nest box
You may have seen springwatch/autumnwatch and feel inspired to get closer to the nature in your garden, or you may be buying a gift for someone who you know loves feeding the birds. Assuming you have decided that a nest box and camera would make a great purchase you may find yourself confronted with a bewildering array of products ranging in price from less than £50 to well over £200. In this post I will try and explain the various factors that affect the price and some of the considerations you should bear in mind when purchasing a nest box/camera combination.
Do you really want a nest box?
While you may immediately think about purchasing a nest box and camera, it isn’t your only option. Have you, for instance, considered purchasing a camera fitted to a feeder rather than a nest box? There are advantages to each which are discussed below:
Advantages of a Feeder / Camera combination
- Greater Variety of birds visiting
- Likely to be used soon after installation
Advantages of a Nest Box / Camera combination
- See nest building in action
- Experience the thrill of seeing eggs/chicks in situ
As you can see a feeder can often give more instant results and will allow a greater variety of birds to be viewed, our feeder is visited by blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits, coal tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatches and the occasional sparrowhawk!
Whereas with a nest box there is no guarantee that any given next box will be used in a nesting season, and it is entirely feasible that it may be a year or more after siting before it is occupied. Having said that, only a nest box can provide the excitement of seeing a pair of birds building a nest and raising a family, a sight which is often hidden to us.
What to look for in a nest box?
Nest boxes can range enormously in price and design, so here are a few factors to consider when planning your purchase.
Hardwood vs softwood
The very cheap next boxes available at your local garden centre or via the internet may well be in softwood, these will be much cheaper, but they are much more likely to warp and suffer through prolonged exposure to wind and rain. We would always recommend a nest box made from hardwoods or durable softwood e.g. cedar, and of a minimum of 10mm thickness to ensure proper insulation against both cold and heat. Our standard boxes are typically 20mm and are FSC cedar. We do not treat the inside of any of our boxes to ensure that there is nothing that could cause damage to the occupants. Where boxes are treated on the outside, it is essential that a bird-friendly stain is used.
Type of Hole/Entrance.
The entrance hole size depends on the species you hope to attract:
- 25 mm for blue, coal and marsh tits
- 28 mm for great tits, tree sparrows and pied flycatchers
- 32 mm for house sparrows and nuthatches
- 45 mm for starlings
The small box with 100 mm high open front may attract robins or pied wagtails. A wren would need a 140 mm high front panel, while spotted flycatchers prefer a low 60 mm front to the box.
In reality a 28mm hole is suitable for general use and will attract blue, coal and marsh tits as well as great tits etc. Too large a hole will leave the birds feeling vulnerable and can also allow predators such as squirrels to get into the box and steal the eggs. Many of our boxes come with a copper plate fitted around the entrance hole, this prevents predators and some larger birds from expanding the entrance in order to get into the box.
To enable any water that may get into the nest box to drain away, it is best to ensure that next boxes are screwed together rather than glued. Glueing seals the joints to such an extent that water cannot drain out of the joints and will remain in the box causing damp, mould and other water damage. Most of our boxes also have small drainage holes in the floor of the box to further aid drainage.
These are the main considerations when choosing a nest box, in another guide I look at the various options when choosing a camera for your nest box.