Springtime Nesting: How do Birds Build a Nest?
Around March and April you may see your garden birds carrying items back and forth as they work to build a nest. Usually the process only takes a few days. But the finished structure is always something of a marvel. These homes are strong enough to hold eggs, hatchlings and their parents. But they’re built using just a beak. So just how do birds build such impressive nests?
Who’s Job Is It?
On the whole, its female birds who build a nest although they may sometimes get some help from their mate. In contrast, it’s the male wren who builds a nest. He gathers moss, dry grass and dead leaves to make a number of dome-shaped homes. Then he hands over responsibility to the hen, who will select the nest she likes best and work to line it with feathers.
Mud and Moss
Robins, song thrushes and blackbirds all nest in hedgerows where they can be safe from predators. They all use a similar nest building style too. They weave grasses and small twigs together to create a structure. This is then made more stable (and more camouflaged) with mud and moss.
A collection of twigs isn’t so steady. Some birds use sticky spiders’ webs to hold their nests together. Chaffinches nest in trees so spider webs help to anchor the nest to branches. Long tailed tits create an elaborate enclosed nest where moss is held together with cobwebs.
Other birds take life a little easier and make use of pre-existing structures. Tits and owls like to set up home in tree trunks, where a handy hole provides the perfect base. Starlings and house sparrows find spaces in rooves. With a structure like this to work with, it doesn’t take much to make things cosy. Adding a little grass or moss will do the trick.
Birds work hard to make their nests comfortable. And they’ll make use of almost anything they can lay their beaks on. Wool, clothing fibres, animal fur and human hair are all commonly found in birds’ nests. Blackbird nests are often found to include materials like string and even sweet wrappers.
We include wood shavings in our gift boxes as filling, simply pop this in a fatball feeder and watch the birds come and collect bits as they build their nests!
For many nesting birds, privacy is a priority. They want to be safe from predators. This means it’s not always possible to see nest building in action. But keep your eyes peeled this spring and you may see your garden birds collecting the materials they need to make their home sweet home.
- Nikki Boxwild
Dispelling the myth - why feeding the birds in Summer is important
There’s a longstanding myth that birds don’t need to be fed during the summer. According to the RSPB, this just isn’t true.
In winter, birds sometimes rely completely on the food we leave out for them. Food is scarce and sometimes it’s hidden under snow and ice.
Food is certainly more abundant during summer months. But it’s around this time that our garden birds are raising and feeding their chicks. They then go on to moult. All of this activity requires a lot of energy.
The RSPB recommends feeding birds little and often in the summer as a way to help them and their young through this busy period. When it comes to feeding your birds in summer, here are a few foods to provide and a few you should avoid:
Foods to Provide
Lots of birds, including robins and thrushes, will make a beeline for mealworms. They’re packed with protein and moisture and provide the perfect food for growing chicks. You can buy live mealworms or dried mealworms. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to soak them in water before putting them out for the birds.
Fruits like raisins, sultanas, apples and pears are a great source of energy for birds, especially when they’re going a little soft. You can halve fruit and leave it on the ground or the bird table. Properly rotten fruit is unlikely to attract them, however.
High quality summer seed mixes like the ones from us, provide a range of nutrients for your garden birds. Sunflower seeds are a favourite amongst many birds. They provide lots of protein and unsaturated fats. Niger seeds, which have a high oil content, are also popular, particularly amongst finches.
Foods to Avoid
Homemade fat balls can quickly melt and turn bad in the heat of a summer’s day. So whilst fat balls and other fatty foods are invaluable in winter months, they’re best avoided in summer.
Birds love unsalted peanuts. They are rich in fat, very tasty and popular with tits, finches and nuthatches. But at this time of year they should always be chopped finely or crushed. Parents may try to feed whole peanuts to their young, who may then choke whilst trying to eat them.
When feeding the birds in summer, provide a rich and varied diet. Don’t allow bird food to go bad. And avoid any foods that could cause harm to young birds still in the nest.
- Nikki Boxwild
Britain could create “Insect Corridor” to Protect Pollinators
More than two thirds of Britain’s pollinators – such as bees, butterflies and moths – are currently in decline. And there are 35 species of native bees that face extinction. In a bid to protect these pollinating insects, the “Protection of Pollinators Bill” was presented to the House of Commons this month.
What is the “Protection of Pollinators Bill”?
The “Protection of Pollinators Bill” calls for councils, landowners and the public to help in creating an insect corridor throughout the whole of the UK. This wildlife-friendly highway would increase the habitats insects have available to them. It would also allow them to spread freely around the country.
The insect corridor would be created by giving over waste ground to wildflower meadows. Roadside verges and areas of public grassland would also be left to grow wild. The charity Buglife, which is already working with the government’s Environment Agency, have started to introduce “B-Lines” – insect pathways that will form the basis for the new national scheme.
Why are Insect Corridors so Important?
MP Ben Bradley introduced the bill in Parliament. He said that pollinating insects are facing numerous challenges. Farming, pesticides, the expansion of urban areas and climate change are all taking their toll on our pollinators.
“They need food, water, shelter and nesting areas,” he said, “As well as the ability to roam far and wide - as they would naturally without the barriers placed in their way as a result of urban sprawl.”
Insect corridors could help to revive insect populations. They’d be beneficial to humans too. We rely on bees, butterflies and moths to pollinate our flowers and food. And a little more green space is good for our own wellbeing.
What you can do to Help Pollinators
We still don’t know whether the “Protection of Pollinators Bill” will become government policy. But while we wait to find out, you can do your bit to protect the pollinators in your garden. Here are a few things you can do to make your garden more welcoming to insects:
- Plant pollinator-friendly flowers. They should be rich in nectar and flower throughout the spring, summer and autumn.
- Leave areas of your garden to go wild. Overgrown grass and wildflowers provide a great habitat for pollinators.
- Provide hidey-holes and insect nests for your garden pollinators. They look for cosy spaces in which to hide from predators, lay their eggs and hibernate.
- We have a selection of boxes to support wildlife: Birds and the Bees Gift Box and our Butterfly and Bug Lovers Gift Box
Pollinators are important for our gardens and the wider ecosystem. Insect corridors could help them to overcome current threats to their survival and thrive once again throughout the country.
- Nikki Boxwild
How to Tell if You Have a Hedgehog in Your Garden
Hedgehogs are elusive creatures. Because they are nocturnal, you might not always know a hedgehog has taken up residence in your garden. If you suspect that a hedgehog might be wandering around your garden at night, look out for these tracks and signs:
Hedgehogs weigh around 1kg but they don’t leave footprints unless the ground is very soft. You could check muddy patches of the lawn and flowerbeds. Alternatively, set up your own footprint trap.
Prints are usually around 2.5cm long and 2.8cm wide. Both front and back feet have five toes but only four show up in tracks. Front footprints look like little handprints. Back footprints are longer and slimmer.
Hedgehog droppings are a sure fire sign you have hedgehogs in your garden. Their poo is usually quite dark in colour, due to their diet of beetles. And you may even be able to spot the exoskeletons of invertebrates packed within them. Droppings are usually found on their own and range in length from 15mm to 50mm.
Hedgehogs leave a trail as they move around. Look for areas of your garden where small tunnels have been forged through the undergrowth. If you suspect a hedgehog has set up home in your garden log pile or compost heap, you could place a few large leaves over the entrance in the evening and check to see if they’re still in place the following morning.
Hedgehogs make more noise than you might think. If you go outside at night time and listen carefully, you may be able to hear snuffling and shuffling in the undergrowth. Spring is an especially good time to hear hedgehogs in your garden. During this season males can get quite loud as they fight over females.
Install a Camera
These days, it’s possible to buy a wildlife camera that will help you to spot nocturnal garden visitors from the comfort and warmth of your own home. Night vision and motion activated cameras help you to easily see which animals are roaming your garden at night.
If you’d like to welcome hedgehogs into your garden, provide the best hedgehog food. Try to avoid these garden hedgehog hazards and provide a hedgehog thoroughfare, allowing hedgehogs to enter your garden from neighbouring properties. Then keep an eye and an ear out at night and early each morning to discover signs that hedgehogs are on the move.
Boxwild has two boxes for anyone who loves Hedgehogs
Spring Birdsong: How to Identify Garden Birds from their Song
The sound of birdsong is one of the first welcome signs that spring has sprung. Our trees, our hedgerows and our gardens are once again noisy with the warbling and calling of birds.
Each bird species has its own unique song. Here are a few pointers on how to identify them:
You may have heard the robins in your garden singing their high-pitched trill all the way through winter. During the spring and summer, their song takes on a little more gusto. They tend to sing first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. At dusk and dawn most other songbirds are roosting so robins get the stage to themselves.
Listen to the song of the robin here.
The great tit starts singing early in the spring. Its song is hard-sounding, with two sharp notes – higher and then lower – repeated again and again. Because great tits love to visit bird feeders, it’s often possible to see as well as hear them singing.
Listen to the song of the great tit here.
Despite its small size, the wren has a powerful set of lungs. If you catch sight of it singing, you’ll see its whole body vibrating with the power of its song. Its calls are loud and warbling and easy to recognise even though they’re so varied.
Listen to the song of the wren here.
Chiffchaffs are some of the first migrant birds to arrive in the UK in the spring. And they stick around until the end of the summer. The chiffchaff has a gentle, plodding song that sounds just like its name.
Listen to the song of the chiffchaff here.
Blackbirds are year-round singers. They can sometimes be heard singing quietly in the undergrowth during winter months. But it’s from spring until the end of July (the end of the breeding season) when you’re most likely to hear its full-throated song. Blackbird song is varied, rich and flute-like, often ending with a few squeaky, high-pitched notes.
Listen to the song of the blackbird here.
The chaffinch is another bird with great variety in its song. Typical characteristics, however, include a loud trill that descends into a little flourish at the end. The noise can be remembered with the phrase, "chip chip chip chooee chooee cheeoo".
Listen to the song of the chaffinch here.
See if you can distinguish a few garden birds from their song this spring. Recognising the species that visit your garden will help you to provide the right food. And give you lots of enjoyment too.
Garden Birds in Spring: Things to Look out For
In spring, our gardens begin to burst with life after the cold winter months. Early flowering plants bring a splash of colour. There’s frogspawn in the ponds. And the occasional bumblebee can be spotted buzzing around on a hunt for nectar.
There’s also plenty happening in the bird world. Here are a few spring bird events to look out for as the season approaches:
The increase in birdsong is a sure fire sign that spring is on its way. Birds sing to mark out their territory and attract a mate. And their songs are as distinct as they are beautiful. Brush up on your birdsong to identify the species you have in your garden. Or just sit back and enjoy your morning cuppa whilst you listen to their magnificent musical performance.
The busy task of nest building usually begins in mid to late spring. But some early birds try to beat the rush, managing to build a nest, mate, lay and hatch their eggs, all by the end of March. Robins, blackbirds and collared doves are all species that breed early in the year and are able to produce more young in a season as a result.
As the UK weather warms up, migrant birds return from their stay in warmer climes. Chiffchaffs are usually one of the first, often returning in March. Swallows, house martins and cuckoos arrive in April. And swifts usually complete their journey home by early May.
Winter Species Departing
A number of migrating species also leave the UK in spring. Blackcaps can be seen in gardens all year round. However, you’re most likely to spot one in winter because part of the population leave when the weather gets warmer. Winter thrushes and finches will also head off in search of colder conditions as spring approaches.
More Birds at Garden Feeders
The breeding season requires a lot of energy. So birds are keen to eat at every opportunity and it’s a great idea to lend them a helping hand. Seeds and nuts are the perfect food for birds at this time. However, only ever provide unsalted nuts and put any whole nuts in a mesh feeder. That way they can’t be fed whole to baby birds who may choke on them.
Spring is a busy and exciting time for our garden birds. Provide food and water for any garden visitors and you’ll get to see all of the action up close.
- Nikki Boxwild