This garden birdhouse is the kind recommended by RSPB. It’s plain and simple – no perches for predators to rest on, no toxic paints, no metal roofs (can overheat in summer) and free from unnecessary ‘decorations’ which can harm (bright colours can also attract predators).
Birds know how to make their own nests, so it’s fine to leave out decaying wood and organic plants, but never leave out human hair or string (can strangle/choke), pet fur (remnants of medication/shampoo) or washing machine lint (often mouldy/can choke). See a beginner’s guide to birds’ nests. Also read how to help our hooting owls and birds of prey, as they need different kinds of housing.
With disappearing habitats, the point of a nestbox is to offer somewhere private and comfortable to rear chicks (never distub them as parents may abandon the nest). Use a camera box set up beforehand to know if chicks have safely left, before cleaning the nest box at the end of season – some birds nest up until September.
Keeping Birds Safe in Gardens
If you live with or near cats, it’s best not to attract birds to your garden. Keep them indoors at dawn and dusk (when birds are likely feeding) and audit your garden to remove perches that cats could up up. Don’t use bird tables with wooden poles (they can claw up them).
Too much artificial feeding is not good, as it encourages birds to rely on you (not good if you move, go into hospital or die). Of course if there is no natural food (berries etc), then by all means give a few safe scraps, but don’t give toxic foods like salt nor stale, mouldy or crusty bread, nor fatty leftovers (like buttered sandwiches – these can smear on feathers and affect weatherproofing and insulation).
Never feed nuts when birds are nesting as they could choke baby birds (and at other times use proper feeders, not those mesh bags that can tangle in feet). If planting to attract garden birds, learn how to make your garden safe for pets, to know toxic plants to avoid.
If you do feed birds, clean feeding stations every week (RSPB has a useful cleaning kit that includes a scraper, brush and recommended mild disinfectant). Wear gloves then empty (don’t compost) old food and take feeders apart to clean, rinse and dry. Also clean bird baths (replace with fresh clean water daily). Don’t put feeders under trees (where birds roost) to avoid droppings and move feeders (safe from predators) to avoid contaminating the ground. If you see sick garden birds, stop feeding for two weeks , empty bird baths and report to Garden Wildlife Health.
How to Choose a Good Birdhouse
RSPB know what they are talking about, so go to them to buy a birdhouse. All are made from sustainable timber with good insulation (to keep warm in winter and cool in summer). Each house is designed with right dimensions and ventilation (some birds like entry holes, others prefer open-fronted boxes) and all use non-toxic preservatives and are free from predator-attracting decorations.
They also sell natural roosting pockets (attach to branches or trellises, facing south or east away from prevailing wind, which could drive in rain). You can leave the small or large hole facing out, but don’t leave both holes open, this could cause a draft. The RSPB range of bird boxes includes:
- Classic Bird Box (around £20) is good for tits and house sparrows (a larger hole version for sparrows). It has drainage holes and side panel with screw for easy end-of-season-cleaning, and hanging tabs to securely fix. Also in open-fronted version for robins, wrens, pies wagtails and spotted flycatchers.
- Lodge Nest Boxes again are sold in versions for closed or open fronts.
- Open-fronted swift nest boxes fit beneath narrow weaves, with a sloping roof so it’s difficult for predators to gain entry. These have a cup (which swifts like) and correct entry hole size.
- Terracotta nest cups mimic precise dimensions of nests for swallows or house martins (with correct entry-sizse holes).
- Natural brushwood nesters offer good places for wrens, robins, wagtails, goldcrests, marsh tits, willow tits and treecreepers. They also attract wood mice and sleepy dormice! Again there are special versions for robins, wagtails and spotted flycatchers.
- RSPB also has tips on how to build a birdhouse, avoiding hazards and offering tips on special circumstances for woodpecker boxes and protecting from heavy rain.
Where to Place Your Birdbox
RSPB has detailed advice, in summary:
- Place away from where cats and other predators could access it.
- Face between north and east, to avoid strong sun and wind (unless trees or buildings shade box in daytime).
- Ensure birds have a clear flight path to nesting box (tilt box slightly forward, so driving rain bounces off the roof).
- To make it easy, see their diagrams below on where to site (and how high) for different species. Place bird boxes in autumn (most will arrive to check it out, though tits may not arrive until early spring):
How to Clean Your Bird Box
Cleaning the nestbox is important to remove parasites and fleas, to avoid harming new birds next year. Remove old nests from September onwards (double-check that nest is empty, some birds nest until this date – a small camera is a good idea to be sure).
Safely remove the nestbox and dismantle. Removing nesting materials and scrape away debris, then pour on boiling water, rinse and dry before replacing the lid. Wash your hands and clothes you came into contact with. Do not put straw or damp materials in the box. Most birds will bring their own (safe) materials, as will small hibernating mammals.