Who’s nesting in your bird box?

The design of the box will determine the species of bird that will make it their home

Encouraging birds to live in our gardens is a great idea and we can determine the species by the accommodation we provide

Encouraging birds to live in our gardens is a great idea and we can determine the species by the accommodation we provide

 

There is something so thrilling about nature occurring just under your nose – and at this time of year, our gardens are simply full of it.

Of course, the flowers and trees coming into bloom are wonderful to see, but there is nothing nicer than the arrival of birds setting up home in a bird box within full view of the house.

We have had a family of yellow tits in our box on the patio for several years and the daily activity of the parents flying to and fro for months is great company. But the piece de resistance is when the first baby bird takes flight – we were lucky enough to witness this last year and it was actually quite thrilling – the little head poking out through the hole with anxious parents hovering outside on the fence and presumably tweeting words of encouragement until finally with a huge leap of faith, it burst out of the box and (after first knocking into the parasol) took flight and soared off into the blue sky.

The ensuing quiet is somewhat eerie after so many months of activity, but our box is busy again as another brood of chicks is being incubated. But while my single bird box brings great joy to the family, Gerry Duffy has no less than eight boxes (which he makes himself and also gifts to friends) in his garden in Wexford and says there is nothing nicer than watching the birds fly in and out as they go about their business.

“I have had bird boxes in my garden for over 20 years now and am now the proud owner of eight of them,” he says. “I get several different types of birds and it’s amazing to see the care they take in choosing whether they will take up residence or not. Most popular would be blue tits and others would include coal tits, nuthatch and pied wagtail.

“It’s very exciting to see who your new tenants will be and the activity when they settle in; with great care taken when coming and going with food for their young, checking for predators and any danger which might occur. I spend a lot of time watching them from the kitchen and it gives me great pleasure to see them tending to their chicks.

“Of course, it’s sad when the young birds leave the box but it’s also a great joy to know that you helped them to get safely to this stage of their development and then you look forward to the coming springtime when they return again.”

For ‘normal’ boxes with a small hole, you can expect blue tits and great tits. “Blackbirds and robins prefer boxes with open sides.
For ‘normal’ boxes with a small hole, you can expect blue tits and great tits. “Blackbirds and robins prefer boxes with open sides.

Glynn Anderson from the National Botanic Gardens says encouraging birds to live in our gardens is a great idea and we can determine the species by the accommodation we provide.

“It’s always a nice idea to have a bird box in the garden but make sure the box is as watertight as possible and put it on the north side of a tree trunk (or just out of direct sunlight) and out of the reach of the cat,” he advises. “Don’t be tempted to put boxes too close together as most birds like their privacy and private food supply in the breeding season. The exceptions are house sparrows who will often build in sparrow ‘hotels’.

“Put the box up in late winter or early spring to give the birds time to check it out – as they like to totally check out a new house and the neighbourhood just like we do. And a nearby bird table will be a positive tick for your prospective tenant.

“For ‘normal’ boxes with a small hole, you can expect blue tits and great tits. “Blackbirds and robins prefer boxes with open sides and robins will sometimes try anything which looks secure such as an old teapot or shoe placed where cats can’t get at them.

Specialist boxes can be got for barn owls and swallows and the breeding season, broadly, is from about February to June but it depends on the species of bird and the number of clutches.”

Avoid the really cheap bird food from cheaper supermarkets and pound stores

A spokesperson for Birdwatch Ireland says it is best to only feed the birds when the weather is bad or with a bird feeder.

“It’s good to put out food in harsh weather conditions but it is better if they can feed their young from nature,” he says. “The best options are nuts and seeds which they can access from feeders.”

Glynn Anderson, author of Birds in Ireland: Facts, Folklore & History, agrees and says as long as the food is good, it’s always beneficial.

“Birds always welcome food and there’s an array of options in your local hardware superstore or garden centre,” he says. “Avoid the really cheap bird food from cheaper supermarkets and pound stores and avoid whole peanuts as some say that young birds can choke on them. Fresh fruit also works. But don’t give salty food and cooked fat and make sure food doesn’t hang around as it can attract rats.”

For the past four or five years our bird box seems to have been occupied by the same family, producing several babies every spring. But Anderson says while the birds may have looked the same, in recent years, it is likely to be relatives of the parents who originally took up residence on our patio.

“Most small birds only live for one to two years max, with some execptions,” he says. “So while parents might revisit (a birdbox) once, it is more likely that familial relations are using the box in following years – perhaps the chicks from the previous year.

“The number of eggs (in a nest or box) depends on the type of bird – you could get up to five in a robins nest and up to 16 in a blue tit’s and some birds may have more than one clutch a year.”

Happy birdwatching.

For information on how to build a birdbox visit www.birdwatchireland.ie

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