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NORTHERN IMAGES


A BOX WITH A HOLE (TIT BOX)

Making your own nest box is easy and requires only basic tools and techniques. The materials required are timber, nails, screws and a piece of rubber or plastic for the hinge. Tools needed are a saw, hammer, a drill and suitable bits. The basic design follows the guidelines of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds RSPB (www.rspb.org.uk) and the British Trust for Ornithology BTO (www.bto.org).

nuthatch
coal tit
The following design will produce a box suitable for members of the tit family together with other common, and less common, garden species.

If your would like to print the contruction information on this page, a printer-friendly version is available by clicking here.

A 4 ft (1200 mm) length of 6 inch (150 mm) by 0.75 inch (18 mm) softwood is ideal for making a nest box. The following diagram shows the cutting instructions. Please read the point below marked * before dividing the front from the lid.

The timber will look like this after cutting.

If you are using recovered or surplus timber then don't be particularly fussy about the measurements - the birds won't be. Internally, dimensions of 3.5 inch by 3.5 inch by 6 inch should be about the minimum. The access hole for the birds should also be at least 5 inch (120 mm) above the floor of the box to prevent predators reaching the nestlings.

* If possible, separate the front from the lid by cutting at an angle to match the slope of the top of the side, as shown above. This will give the correct angle for the lid to fit snugly to the front, the sides and the back panel.

If you cannot make this cut at an angle, make the front panel slightly shorter, as shown by the dotted line in the diagram. This will allow the lid to rest on the slope of the sides.

These photographs show how the lid forms a neat fit with the front and back panel if it is cut at the same angle as the slope of the sides.

Begin assembly by nailing the back to the sides, keeping the bottom edges level with each other, as shown above. Then nail on the front in a similar manner. In the example I used 40 mm galvanised clout nails although almost any nails or screws of a suitable length will do.

A useful trick, if the nails cause the wood to split, is to blunt the nails before using them. I know it sounds competely wrong, but it really does work. Hold each nail point up and hit it with a hammer to slightly blunt it.

Cut the base to size so that it fits inside the bottom as shown by the dotted lines in the diagram above. Fix the base in position by nailing through the sides, back and front.

Put the lid in position and drill a hole through it to meet the top edge of the front. Put a screw in the hole and drive it into the front to fix the lid in place.

Position the rubber/plastic to form a hinge as shown in the diagram. It should cover the meeting of the lid with the back panel. This will seal the joint and create a hinge. Nail or staple the rubber/plastic to the back and to the lid. I have found that gaffer tape or duct tape also works well as a hinge. Nails or staples still need to be used since the adhesive will not grip the rough timber very effectively.

Undoing the screw will allow the lid to be lifted on the rubber/plastic hinge.

The final task is to drill the entry hole for the birds. Different birds species prefer differently sized holes. The following list is not exclusive; I have seen great tits and pied flycatchers nest in a box with a 25 mm hole.

Blue tit, marsh tit, coal tit 25 mm (1 inch) diameter.
Great tit, pied flycatcher, tree sparrow 28 mm (1.125 inch) diameter.
House sparrow, nuthatch 32 mm (1.25 inch) diameter.

blue tit
pied flycatcher

Drill a hole of the selected size, making sure that it is at least 120 mm (5 inch) above the floor of the box. Nest boxes need drainage holes. If the base is a poor fit, the gaps will allow any water to escape. If it is a good fit, drill some 2 - 3 mm diameter holes in the base.

Your completed box should look similar to this photograph.

Position the nest box so that the hole is not facing south if the sun shines through the hole, onto the nestlings, they may die from overheating. Any other direction is acceptable but if the box is placed in an exposed position, sheltering the hole from the prevailing wind and rain, is a good idea.

Fix the box securely using wire or screws using hole(s) drilled in the back above the seal. Mount the nest box 1 2 m (5 7 ft) high. Make sure that cats will not have easy access - they would love a box mounted at the top of a fence. Other likely predators include woodpeckers and squirrels. They may enlarge the opening to get at the nestlings. Covering the opening with a metal plate, drilled with an appropriately sized hole, should prevent this type of damage.


a potential predator - a great spotted woodpecker (male)

Some recent research has suggested that mounting boxes of this type higher than 7 ft, increases the chances of them being used, although this may be difficult in a domestic setting.

Some of the birds attracted to nest boxes are very territorial. Avoid positioning boxes close together except when targeting house sparrows they enjoy communal roosting and nesting.

This is a four compartment communal box designed for house sparrows.

Birds of the tit family will not tolerate other nest boxes being used within the vicinity of theirs. Try using other sides of the house or garden, preferably out of sight of existing boxes. Conflict can also be avoided by not putting nest boxes close to a bird table or other feeding area.

New boxes can be fitted at any time of the year and may be used for overnight roosting during the winter. Clean out your nest boxes in February, removing any old nesting materials. The outside of your nest boxes may be painted but leave the inside untreated.


There are times when you become aware that the birds don't read the manual. This is the box for house sparrows - communal living and 32mm holes - but great tits have built a nest in one end, and are busy feeding young (14 May 2003).

great tit with food waiting to enter
adult great tit leaves the nest


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