30 Days Wild - Day Twenty-eight - Put up a nestbox

Nuthatch in a nestbox by Dave Francis

Reaping the rewards of nestbox monitoring

When I started my role as a reserve officer, the nest box scheme on my site had been running since 2000 and also had 7 years of data from the 1980s. This means that we have been measuring clutch sizes and egg laying dates since then, and the difference between now and the 1980s is quite something! On the whole, the birds in the boxes now appear to be laying approximately 2 weeks earlier than they did in the 1980s.

When my colleague who managed the nest box scheme retired, I trained for a licence to continue the scheme because that sort of data is too valuable to let go. Not being an expert on birds (inverts are my passion…bird food as the birders call them!), I was told that you are only really likely to see a great tit, coal tit or blue tit in the boxes here. So when I carefully open the lid of the boxes, I catch a glimpse of the parent with either a black cap (great tit), black cap with a white patch on its neck coal tit) or a blue cap (blue tit). 

But I soon discovered that the birds don’t read the rule books and when there is a clean, cosy nest box on offer, some birds just can’t resist. I have since found a marsh tit nesting in a box, a species that is declining nationally and which usually doesn’t like nest boxes. They tend to use existing holes and excavate them further: but with the help of feeding stations and suitable habitat - and cosy nest boxes - the population on site is doing well.

I have also found: treecreepers,  which usually like to wedge themselves between crevices on trees; wrens; tree sparrows; wood mice; and a weasel who was extremely annoyed that I had disturbed its breakfast!

But this season has given me a real treat. This year we had a nuthatch nesting in one of the boxes. This beautiful little bird has never actually been confirmed as breeding on site, although it has always been suspected. This is another species that rarely use nest boxes, as they tend to prefer natural holes and often reduce the size of the hole with mud, which they'd done to the nest box, too.

Nuthatch chicks all piled on top of each other in a nest box

Nuthatch chicks in the nest box by Mischa Cross

The female laid a clutch of 7 eggs, all of which hatched and fledged, which was fantastic to see. This species is not thought be very mobile, though some fledgling birds do disperse from the nesting site, on the whole, they remain quite sedentary. Because the young were ringed from the nest, if they are re-trapped elsewhere or on site here we will be able to see if the fledglings from the nest box have stayed in the area or flown further afield.

Though this sort of detailed nest box monitoring requires a licence, it is extremely rewarding to have a nestbox in your own garden, and to be able to watch adult birds popping in and out with food for their young - and then the young birds flitting about your garden once they've fledged. Something you could prepare for next year's 30 Days Wild, perhaps?

Day 28 icon for 30 Days Wild


Ways to go wild...

Put up a nest box. You might not reap the rewards until next year at the earliest, but why not put one up in preparation, and give your resident birds a whole year to discover the box and ready themselves for moving in? You could even make your own from a plank of wood...