I woke up this morning to a beautiful orange sunrise (definitely of the ‘Shepherd’s warning’ variety) and to the sound of the birds singing. It’s still a bit early in the year for a full-blown dawn chorus but despite the nippy temperatures I’ve definitely noticed an increase in volume of birdsong outside my window in recent weeks. Spring it would seem is not so far off.
This week is National Nestbox Week – a chance to set up a des-res or two for your garden birds ahead of the mating season which kicks off in earnest next month. It’s another great way of supporting our feathered friends and a joy to watch (from a distance of course) should a bird family move in.
Not all birds will make use of a nest-box and different species can be quite picky about the dimensions and shape of their future family homes. Tits, sparrows, starlings, jackdaws and woodpeckers for instance prefer a box with a round hole, with the size of each box and hole varying depending on the bird type. Robins, wagtails, wrens and flycatchers on the other hand prefer and open front whilst eaves nesters such as swallows and house martins prefer a semi-circular cup style nest.
We have already got a great tit box in our garden and a great spotted woodpecker box placed optimistically up our oak tree as high as the ladder would reach! We haven’t got a robin box in the garden though so this week we decided to set that right.
Waiting until two year old Beth was napping, Roo and I raided the wood left-overs and DIY tools in the shed. Ideally you need some rough-sided sustainable wood at least 15mm thick for bird box building. Our wood was a bit on the smooth side – perhaps we can upgrade it later in the year. It’s worked for hedgehog boxes in the garden before though so at least I knew it could cope with being outdoors!
At four years old Roo was too little to be let loose on making the nest box herself and physically not strong enough to be able to control adult sized tools safely. I’m a great believer in introducing children to using tools safely from a young age so she did get involved to a certain extent. She started off by helping me measure up the different pieces onto our wood – a great way of practising number recognition and pencil control drawing straight lines along the meter rule.
Whilst I got on with sawing out the pieces, Roo gathered bits of dry grass, twigs and leaves to make her own nest on the grass. She helped me out sawing the very last section of the last piece of wood. It was a good opportunity to talk about safely using a saw, where to put hands, what to watch out for etc. I covered both her hands with mine to prevent any untoward accidents on this first attempt. She loved it when the wood finally dropped down onto the decking with a satisfying clunk! I’m afraid I don’t have any pics given the close supervision that was going on at the time!
Next up was sanding the edges. This was a little easier with a preschooler. I pointed out the rough bits to avoid touching and gave Roo some fine grained paper to get going with and she did a brilliant job.
It was back over to me for construction time, although Roo did help out by holding various pieces in the right place at a safe distance from the hammer. Once the box was finished we scouted round the garden to find a quiet spot to put it up in. Robins like to be fairly low down (under 2m) and hidden away in vegetation. We eventually settled for an ivy covered fence next to a hedge. Now we just have to wait and see if anyone moves in – luckily we can see the area outside the box reasonably easily from inside the house so if we do get new residents the increased comings and goings in that bit of garden ought to tip us off.
Making a box with Roo was good fun, even if she was a bit young to be able to get wholly involved. I remember making a bird box with our Wildlife Watch group at school when I was about eight years old and being able to use all the tools fairly independently and it being amazing fun, so if you’ve got older kids who are into practical fun then definitely give it a go. Failing all else you can always buy a nest box from most garden centres or on-line. There are even ones with in-built cameras these days if you have money to splurge, avoiding the problem of curious children wanting to peer in the box during breeding season to check on the residents. Just check that any nest box is the right size for the kind of birds your hoping to attract before buying.
We used the guide from the RSPB for making our robin box and there are plenty of other guides out there from the Wildlife Trusts and other wildlife organisations. I also love the fantastic RSPB Gardening for Wildlife book by Adrian Thomas that I was given by my Mum last year – it has a fantastic section giving all the different dimensions, instructions and guides on where to locate them for pretty much every kind of nest box you could want to build. It’s a great book if you’re into nature.
If you’ve got a quiet spot in your garden or perhaps on your house (for house martins, swallows etc.) then do consider setting up a nest box for the birds this week. Of course it might not get used right away but you’ll be doing your bit for garden birds and the kids will be fascinated if you do get a bird resident or two setting up home.