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Quick Reads

Nest Boxes: What Are They And Which Ones Are Best?

If you missed The Big Garden Birdwatch last month but would like to help out wildlife, never fear! Twenty years ago, the British Trust of Ornithology created the National Nest Box Week with the support from Jacobi Jayne & Co.

What you need to know

While novelty birdhouses look pretty and can be a home to our feathered friends, the BTO strongly recommends using only wood to make these nest boxes, as metal plastic and ceramic can overheat in the warmer months. It can be any type of wood, as long as it is minimum 15mm thick.

The two types of boxes for gardens that tend to be used the most are small-holed ones, ideal for tit species and small open fronted ones, used by robins. The BTO has an outstanding list specifying which type of birds will use each type, but they essentially identified 4 designs: small box with hole, large box with hole open front box and a very big boxes for kestrels and owls.

Making your own box

When you come round to making your own nesting box, make sure it isn’t too small inside, as birds might lay fewer eggs. Additionally, ensure there are a couple of holes drilled at the bottom so water can drain and that the box is but together with nails instead of glue. We asked the BTO about the perch vs no-perch debacle, and he confirmed that standard nest boxes (i.e. hole entrance nest boxes) are not to have one. Small birds don’t need one, but it can facilitate access to predators, such as other birds or prey. Finally, when you come to making the hole for the smaller birds, it should not be bigger than 32mm.

Gathering Inspiration

Wooden nesting boxes need not be boring, however. Whereas it is true that they should be somewhat concealed and not draw attention, they can be beautiful things. The bottom line is that we want to aid wildlife, and many times practicality will outweigh prettiness.

The BTO suggests targeting “your nest box choice to the birds you see regularly in your garden. In most cases you can make a general assumption that most gardens get Blue and Great Tit, and Robins”. We also asked whether we could have several nest boxes in one garden, and they suggest having up to 3 nest boxes, one each for Robin, Blue Tit (small hole) and Great Tit (large hole), as “it is not uncommon to have all three nesting in medium-sized gardens.”

Hole nest boxes

Ideal for the blue tit, great tit, coal tit (and other tits) and house sparrow among others.

PicMonkey Collage small hole

Large hole next boxes

Popular among swifts, starlings, woodpeckers and little owls.

PicMonkey Collage big hole

Open front boxes

preferred by robins, spotted flycatchers and pied wagtials.

PicMonkey Collage open

Big boxes

Best suited for big birds such as kestrels, tawny owls, barn owls or stock doves.

PicMonkey Collage big

And of course, sometimes birds will simply choose their own home, thank you very much. It still is an open front box, though.

Notes from the UK D.L. Keur

Image Credit: D.L. Keur via Notes from the UK

Check out what wild bird nesting boxes we have onsite. Some even have a built-in camera! 


Zoe Allison

Zoe Allison

Writer and expert