How to choose a nest box and where to put it.

Blue Tits will readily use a nest box.

Putting nest boxes up can attract birds to your garden by providing birds with a safe comfortable environment for nesting and shelter.

Our guide will help you find out which nest boxes will used by which birds plus where and when to site them.

Choosing a nest box

Which Style?

Nest boxes come with entrances of different shapes and sizes, hole fronted or open fronted. Different species of birds favour different styles The table below highlights which nest boxes are favoured by common UK birds.

The Official, Woodcrete nest box. Hole front for tits and sparrows.
Tits/ Sparrows/ Nuthatch/ Starlings

Hole Fronted

The diameter of the hole is important, too large and predators or larger birds can gain access to the nest and destroy it.

Robin / Wren / Pied Wagtail

Open Fronted

Place in dense vegetation cover, to hide large entrances from predators and larger birds.

Table 1: Bird box styles and entrance sizes favoured by different species of bird

Nest Box EntranceSpecies of BirdSuggested LINKS
Hole
25 mm HoleBlue tit / Coal Tit / Marsh Tit
28 mm HoleGreat tit
32 mm HoleHouse Sparrow / Nuthatch
45 mm HoleStarling
50 mm HoleGreater Spotted Woodpecker
Oval Shaped HoleSwift
Open Fronted
60 mm high at frontSpotted Flycatcher
100 mm high at frontRobin, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird
140 mm high at frontWren

What Material?

Nest boxes should provide a comfortable space for birds to nest and rear their young safely during the breeding season. They are also used in the winter for birds to shelter from the cold. The insulating properties of the material used to make the box is therefore of paramount importance. It should provide protection from the extreme heat of summer to keep eggs and chicks cool and also provide insulation against the cold in winter months.

Durable woods of thickness 19 mm thick (no less than 15 mm) such as Cedar, Oak or Beech will provide relief for nesting birds and chicks from the heat in summer months whilst insulating against the harsh cold for those sheltering in the winter months. It may be treated only on the outside with a non toxic water based preservative to increase the water resistance and longevity of the box.

Plastic or ceramic materials are NOT suitable as these materials will allow the sun to heat up the inside of the box rather than keeping it cool.

‘Woodcrete’ is an innovative material. Made from wood (70%) and concrete, these boxes last a long time and remain dry and insulated all year round.

Where should I site it?

Position boxes up out of the reach of predators, however take into account that some species of bird do like to nest higher than others.

The table below shows the preferred nesting height for different species.

Open fronted boxes should be protected by and the entrance hidden within vegetation such as a climbing plant such as ivy.

Hole fronted boxes should be placed on a wall or tree trunk with a good open flight path for the birds spot predators and be able to fly straight to the hole.

Place on tree trunks or walls in spots sheltered from the wind and rain , facing North East is ideal. Do NOT situate them in sun traps where the nests could over heat, for example on South facing walls.

Away from high traffic areas; humans and birds alike! So do not place a bird box right next to a feeding station, the high levels of activity from visiting birds may disturb nesting birds or even deter them from using the box at all.

Aim to position boxes up out of the reach of predators, however take into account that some species of bird do like to nest higher than others. Some birds like a clear view and flight path in to their nest whilst others like to approach in thicker vegetation which provides camouflage and protection but they must still be able to see any approaching predators.

Most nesting boxes should be positioned away from others attracting the same species as birds can be very territorial and boxes placed too close together may promote aggressive behaviour between neighbours. House Sparrows and Swift and Starlings may prefer to nest in colonies and placing 2 -3 nest boxes near to each other on the same aspect of a building will provide this.

Stainless steel or galvanised screws that do not rust are ideal for fixing boxes securely to walls, and a similarly galvanised wire can be used to tie it to a branch or tree trunk.

Table 2: Heights and environmental conditions for bird boxes according to species.

Species of BIrdEntrance hole (diameter)Height to position box from the groundFavoured Environment
Coal Tit25 mmLess than 1 mEntrance clear of foliage, to provide birds with a clear view of any predators.
House Sparrow32 mmAt Least 2 mEntrance clear of foliage, provide birds with a clear view of any predators. Prefer colonies. Will nest high under eaves of house.
Nuthatch32 mmAt Least 3 mEntrance clear of foliage, to provide birds with a clear view of any predators.
Blue Tit25 mmBetween 2 – 4 mEntrance clear of foliage, to provide birds with a clear view of any predators.
Great Tit28 mmBetween 2 – 4 mEntrance clear of foliage, to provide birds with a clear view of any predators. Great Tits like a clear flight path in.
Starlings45 mmAt Least 2.5 mPrefer loose colonies. Will nest high under eaves of houses.
Greater Spotted Woodpecker50 mm3 – 5 mOn a tree trunk, with a clear flight path. Quiet area, without disturbance.
Open Fronted (height)
Spotted Flycatcher60 mm2 – 4 mA clear flight path and sheltered by vegetation.
Robin / Wren100 mm / 140 mmBelow 2 mWell hidden in Vegetation, positioned in a wall climber is ideal.
Blackbird100 mm At least 2 mFixed to a tree or wall.

When and how to clean?

Remember to make sure that nest boxes should be placed out of the reach of ground predators, but that they must remain easily accessible for cleaning after each breeding season has finished, the end of September or October is ideal.

Wild birds naturally have parasites, therefore nest boxes may contain lice and even fleas, ready to infest next years fledglings.

Open the nest box, clear out any remaining nest material. If you find any eggs, remember they can only be legally removed between September and January. Even so, it is worthwhile checking the nest box is no longer in use as some species can still nest late in the season through to September.

Pour boiling water into the nest box to kill ant parasites that remain, and leave the box open to dry out thoroughly inside before closing the lid. Inspect the box for signs of wear and tear and that it is still securely attached to the trunk or wall screws.

Some birds may use nest boxes over winter as roosting sites, or small mammals may even hibernate inside. You can place a small amount of wood shavings or hay inside for these visitors, although we are advised not to use straw.

Essential take away tips…

Open fronted boxes should be hidden from view.

Place hole fronted boxes with a clear flight path in, and usually at a height of 1-3 m.

Site boxes away from high traffic areas, out of prevailing weather, tilted down at a slight angle and out of extreme sunny spots.

Ensure boxes are not easily accessed by predators, especially cats!

Avoid siting boxes too close together, unless they are sparrow or starling boxes.

Clean after breeding season and inspect for any damage.

More information and reading about nest boxes at The British Trust for Ornithology.

Once you have chosen your nest boxes,
put them up in a suitable place in your garden and enjoy from a distance…