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Nest Boxes & Bird Houses

Monday, 16th March 2015

Putting up nest boxes in or around your garden has to be a good idea, both for the birds and for yourself. I am sure that any of you who has been able to follow the fortunes of Tits, Robins, Starlings, or Wrens that have chosen to rear their families in a custom built home provided by you, will agree that you are likely to be totally captivated by your very own avian soap opera.
The plot line may be predictable, but it is emotionally absorbing. It starts with the anticipation of realizing that the adult birds are searching for a suitable site. Then comes the satisfaction of watching them  bringing in nest material at an almost frenetic rate. Then comes a worrying stage. The birds have become less conspicuous. Have they abandoned the nest ? Or is the female popping in now and then to lay an egg? The average egg laying rate is about one a day,  so it will take small birds just less or more than a week to complete the clutch. Then it goes quiet again. This is incubation time. Keep an eye on the box ,and decide whether one or two birds are going in and out. Male and female generally take turns at egg duty. You can imagine them changing over :” And about time too! You could’ve brought me a mealworm. I’m off to get my own now. I wont be long but if you feel any of those eggs moving, call me. I don’t want to miss a hatch.”

So on to the next stage. Another worrying time for the surrogate parents – that’s you, and me! Hopefully, all the eggs hatch, but often one or two are infertile or get broken. Keep an eye on the box. If the adults suddenly start coming and going more often that is a good sign, especially if they are bringing in caterpillars or other small insects. Occasionally, one might emerge carrying what resembles a small white balloon. This is a faecal sack –shrink wrapped poo!- which mum or dad will take away  so that the nest stays clean  Needless to say , if it were left to the youngsters it would be a right old mess. I am sure you know the syndrome!

A well made nest box is perhaps the safest site a pair of garden birds could raise a family, but it doesn’t guarantee success. A predator –most likely a cat -could kill one of the adults. A single parent might have trouble finding enough food (definitely time to supply extra rations), a spell of cold wet weather could chill the chicks, or the box might be raided by a squirrel, Jay, Magpie or even a Great Spotted Woodpecker who is capable of drilling his way in. Do not hesitate to surround the box with a safety fence of wire mesh. It wont deter the tits, but it will keep out the raiders.

Then comes the big finale, the day when the freshly feathered fledglings leave their box and venture out into the big wonderful world of –your garden! 

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