Tuesday, 24 January 2017

checking nest boxes

Box repaired following woodpecker attack
The list of things we need to get done before spring is over-facing... I won't bore you with it.
But on the list is to check nest boxes before the birds begin prospecting for nesting sites and establishing territories. The BTO Nest Box Week is 14-21 February. For once, I'm ahead!

Professor Ian Newton tells us that two of the main reasons that birds don't breed successfully is lack of food and lack of suitable nest sites. I'm working on both fronts.

I've been a nest box maker since childhood. I remember the thrill of watching a blue tit occupying a nest box I'd knocked together as a child. What a sense of achievement!!

In January I  re-site boxes that haven't been successful over the past couple of years, repair damaged boxes and remove detritus in the boxes to prevent a build up of bird pests. As always, The BTO Nest Box Guide is my bible.

Great tits, blue tits, tree sparrows and stock doves used our boxes last year. 18 (50%) were occupied.

This year I'm hoping for continued success but never expect to have all used. I've put up a couple of spotted flycatcher boxes in what appears to be optimum habitat. But these are birds facing huge declines in their numbers and I haven't seen a Nottinghamshire spotted flycatcher in years. They are quite secretive and don't have a showy song or appearance. They do possess quite astounding skills in twisting and turning flight - and it would be pretty amazing if they bred with us.

I've grouped together boxes for tree sparrows having had them nest in one of my boxes in 2016. These won't all be used.

I have two house sparrow colony boxes but know that there's little hope of this shy bird using them just yet. I need more evergreen leafy cover for them.

I'm also trying to over-supply nest boxes in the woodland in the hope that aggressive blue tits and great tits will leave vacant possession of a box for passing marsh tits. We've recorded marsh tits a mile away from our garden ... there's a tiny chance.

I also have a dream that exotic Mandarin ducks will occupy one of the big, open fronted boxes now that George's Pond is there to attract them.

The boxes aren't always the exclusive domain of birds as I discovered in 2016 when a colony of tree bumblebees was found. I learned how quickly an arthritic knee can carry a man on this occasion. Small mammals and many invertebrates also use our boxes.

five bonny babies
My aim is to find time to begin some more systematic recording of box use and success in 2017. To help with this I'm hoping to begin bird ringing with an expert. Over time and along with the data collected by all other recorders, this data provides important information on changes to bird populations. The number of young successfully raised may give clues to help us understand how (for instance) climate change is affecting birds - one example of the potential use of this information.

But don't let's complicate this thing. Any garden - or even balcony - can find a corner for a nest box. Keep it away from the reach of cats and the heat of the sun. And with luck you can watch your own wildlife documentary unfold.

On a quite selfish front, I site nest boxes because I love to think that I've made a difference. Not only is there an immense feeling of satisfaction when birds breed successfully in a box I've sited, I love lifting the box lid and helping children to peek in and see the eggs or babies. It is this direct contact with the secret and most intimate world of nature that can be an enduring memory for children and potentially catch their interest in a subject that has been close to my heart since childhood.

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