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BTO (British Trust for Ornithology)

National Nest Box Week
and the Nest Box Challenge

Wildlife

‘Be a nosey neighbour- take part in Nest Box Challenge!’

National Nest Box Week is 14th to 21st February. This is the time to start making sure your nest boxes are clean and in good condition, or to purchase or make some nest boxes if you are just beginning your friendship with our feathered friends, and put them up in the garden in readiness for the forthcoming breeding season. Vivienne Greenough, Nest Records Officer for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) explains why it is then a good idea to register for the Nest Box Challenge (NBC) and why this online survey is so important. And, as Vivienne tells us, watching one of nature’s wonders is far better than watching a soap opera!

House Sparrows used to be widely seen across the UK before they experienced rapid population decline
House Sparrows used to be widely seen across the UK before they experienced
rapid population decline
(1)

As winter draws to an end, the first hints of spring are in the air, the days are getting longer, the nights are getting warmer and our favourite garden birds are starting to think about breeding. Nesting birds are one of the delights of spring and one way in which you can witness this marvellous event is by putting up a nest box in your garden.

Robin Clutch - Clutch counts are used in NBC to determine annual changes in clutch size between years
Robin Clutch
Clutch counts are used in NBC to determine annual changes in clutch size between years (4)

Nest boxes are becoming increasingly important for the UK’s breeding birds. As woodlands are tidied and old buildings renovated, natural nesting places for birds are becoming scarce. Furthermore, as the countryside becomes increasingly developed a higher proportion of Britain’s birds are residing in urban/suburban areas. Nest boxes therefore play a vital role in providing alternative nesting sites for UK urban bird populations.

Over the past 25 years, many of our common garden bird species have experienced severe declines. In particular, numbers of Starlings and House Sparrows have fallen by over 50% and consequently both species have been added to the red list of conservation concern (www.bto.org/psob/index.htm). In order to pinpoint causes of population changes in birds, it is necessary to monitor both their survival, which is achieved through the BTO’s Ringing Scheme (www.bto.org/ringing/index.htm) and their breeding success.

Blue Tit chick about to fledge
Blue Tit chick about to fledge (2)

Each year millions of birds attempt to rear their offspring in gardens across the UK, with many raising broods in nest boxes (a few examples include Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling, House Sparrow and Robin).

In 2007, Nest Box Challenge (www.bto.org/nbc/index.htm) was launched by the British Trust for Ornithology in partnership with BBC’s Breathing Places campaign, with the aim of learning more about productivity trends of bird populations in urban areas.

NBC is an online survey that allows people to monitor the breeding attempts of birds that use nest boxes in their gardens. Nest boxes are monitored by recording the contents of the nest box on regular intervals during the breeding season. It is perfectly safe to lift the lid on an occupied box as long as you do so carefully and quietly and replace it immediately if you see a bird sitting on the nest – over 10,000 nests are monitored this way for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme each year. If the lid is fixed and you don’t have a nest box camera inside, then you can still take part by recording the activity of the parent birds at the box.

A hungry brood of Great Tits!
A hungry brood of Great Tits! (3)

Information collected by NBC participants includes nest box occupancy rates, laying dates, clutch sizes and brood sizes. Your records allow productivity trends for each species to be determined - for example, NBC data revealed that Blue Tits on average laid 5 days earlier in 2007 than they did in 2008. Additionally, NBC data can be used to discover species preferences in nesting sites - Blue Tits were found to favour nest boxes in close proximity to deciduous trees, suggesting that food availability for chicks may influence nesting site.

NBC is easy to participate in, it’s free and all your observations can be submitted by a few easy clicks of your computer’s mouse! By participating in NBC you will experience the excitement of watching a brood being raised and make your contribution to conservation at the same time. There is nothing more satisfying than observing the intimate life of birds - it’s one of nature’s wonders, and far better than your average soap opera!

If you join the BTO during National Nest Box Week 2009 you will receive a beautiful Cedar Plus nest box.
See also the Healthy Life Essex article provided by the RSPB "How to make a Nestbox"

For more information and to take part in Nest Box Challenge visit www.bto.org

Miss Vivienne Greenough
Nest Records Officer
British Trust for Ornithology
The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU
Tel. 01842 750050
Fax. 01842 750030
Registered Charity No 216652 (England & Wales)
Registered Charity No 039193 (Scotland)
BTO is also registered as a limited company in England & Wales - No 357284


Picture Credits
1. House Sparrows used to be widely seen across the UK before they experienced rapid population decline.
    (John Harding/BTO)
2. Blue Tit chick about to fledge. Blue Tits are the most frequent occupier in NBC.
   (Christine M Matthews/BTO)
3. A hungry brood of Great Tits!
   (Richard Castell/BTO) 
4. Robin Clutch-clutch counts are used in NBC to determine annual changes in clutch size between years.
   (Richard Castell/BTO)

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