10 Tips About Bird Boxes

By Andy McIndoe

A Gardeners Guide to Bird Nesting Boxes

As we head into spring in the Northern Hemisphere, mornings get lighter and the dawn chorus gets louder and more cheerful. Wouldn’t it be lovely to provide a home for those wild birds that are thinking about setting up home and starting a family?

How about a bird nesting box on a tree, or the garage wall? Maybe one with a camera so that the kids can watch the baby birds on the computer.

Or perhaps you have a bird box already that remains empty and unoccupied year after year; why is that?

On my Gardening For Wildlife Course I get asked lots of questions about nest boxes. Where to site them? What type to choose? Do they need cleaning out, or not?

So here is my starter list of ten things you should know about wild bird nesting boxes, before you rush out and buy one and pin it to the nearest tree – just because it is spring and you thought about it.


When should i Install a Nest Box?

Actually spring is not the ideal time to install a nesting box. They are best put up in autumn, when birds are on the look-out for ideal sites to nest through winter.

It also gives the box time to weather and lose all scents of shop and gardener, and it gives time for the birds to get used to it.

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Which are the Best nest Boxes?

Simple, well designed bird boxes, endorsed by the main bird charities and organisations at the ones to go for (look out for RSPB and BTO endorsements in the UK, American Bird Conservancy in the US).

These will have removable lids to allow cleaning and will be made from sustainable timber, treated with odourless and environmentally friendly preservatives. The wood that a box is made from should be at least 15mm (half an inch) thick to provide adequate insulation.


Does My Bird Box Need maintenance?

Bird boxed must be cleaned out annually in late autumn or winter to remove old nests and any debris.

They should also be cleaned with an appropriate sanitiser that will kill pests and harmful bacteria. Household products are usually unsuitable. If in doubt use clean hot water and let the box dry out before replacing the lid. Do not soak it.


Can i Paint My Bird Box?

Brightly coloured novelty bird boxes may look cute, as do those that are combined with bird feeding tables. However the chances of anything inhabiting them is remote.

By all means use them for garden decoration but position the real nesting boxes elsewhere.


What’s the best position For A Nest Box?

Bird boxes should always be positioned in a sheltered spot with the entrance hole facing away from the prevailing wind and rain.

Angle the box slightly forward so that rain runs off the roof and avoids the entrance hole. Nesting birds need a warm, dry environment.

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What height Should I Install my Bird box?

The height of the box is important. For small nesting birds, such as blue tits, it should be 2 – 4 metres above ground level and away from bird feeding stations and excess bird activity.

Some birds are very territorial. Birds that prefer boxes with large front openings, such as robins like their boxes around 2 metres above ground level. Do a little research on this before you decide; there is lots of information on the main wild bird sites.


Where should i Install My Nest Box?

Bird boxes are best positioned towards the edge of vegetation: just beneath the canopy of a tree or alongside a climber or wall shrub.

Flight paths to the bird box must be open and uncluttered. Birds do not like their homes to be buried in the undergrowth or totally exposed.


What Else Do The Birds Require?

Make sure there is an adequate supply of nesting material around; there usually is, unless you are a fanatically tidy gardener.

Dry grass remains, fine twigs, moss, leaves and anything that can be weaved into a nest is useful. It is worth planning for this in the planting of your garden.


When Should I Feed My Birds?

In short, if you start to feed your birds then you should continue feeding 12 months of the year, as they will quickly come to rely on the extra sustenance.

Nesting birds and those with young are especially hungry and thirsty. May sure your garden has an adequate supply of high protein bird seed – there are special mixes for nesting young.

Also maintain a supply of clean fresh water. Both should be away from, but accessible to the nesting boxes.


Why isn’t my Bird Box Occupied?

Sometimes nesting boxes are occupied in the first season, sometimes they are left unoccupied for several seasons. If the latter is the case then try moving it. It may be that there are other sites close by that are more attractive.

Or perhaps it is too open, overlooked or inhospitable. If attaching it to a tree be careful that screws or nails don’t cause damage to the tree. Tie on with galvanised wire if possible.

Nesting Box Dimensions & Hole Sizes


North America


United Kingdom


Further Study

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Andy McIndoe

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