The more boxes you put up the more birds visit

Marsh tit at nest. Painting by Philip Rickman.

Marsh tit at nest. Painting by Philip Rickman.

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HAVE you got your nest boxes in place for the coming season?

One you might not have thought of is the cup nest for the house martin. Chichester has some in the Pallants. After all, it is the county bird.

The Portuguese have them at many towns fixed under the eaves of riverside houses. Many farm buildings could use them as these African migrants help to keep down flies worrying the horses and cattle.

The first next boxes we know about in the world can be traced to Holland from a picture F van Valkenborch painted in 1595 of small boxes on the wall of a house and in the nearby trees.

They are made of clay, with entrance holes, probably for sparrows and starlings. Wooden boxes called cistulas were used in Silesia for wild birds to lay their first clutch which was eaten by the locals, while the second clutches were let to hatch and fledge so that the crop would continue next year.

In the 1880s a traveller in Norway noted wooden boxes on trees for goldeneye ducks which could then be harvested.

On the Friesian islands the natives put up flask nest tubes made of willow twigs, or reeds near their duck decoys to attract in the mallard.

The gamekeeper on my father’s Norfolk farm also did this with great success though some were used by kestrels, tawny owls, stock doves and jackdaws. Once or twice moorhens used them as platforms for their twig and rush nests ten feet off the ground.

One of the first Victorians to stop shooting and collecting to conserve was the eccentric squire, naturalist and traveller Charles Waterton of Walton Hall, Leeds, whose estate became a nature reserve much to the annoyance of ridicule of his land-owning neighbours.

The earliest very successful boxes were invented in 1907 by a German, Baron von Berlepsch who put up 2,000 boxes in his woods, 90 per cent of which were occupied by 14 different species.

A further 300 boxes were 100 per cent successful in his park. Apparently the secret was to make the wooden boxes an almost exact replica of a hole in a dead tree complete with sawdust and dirt on the floor. I wonder what his estate carpenters thought of the idea. Probably didn’t care as long as they were paid.

In these woods the wooden boxes put up for dormice having no round hole at the side but a creep slit underside. They are mostly occupied by blue tits and great tits, sometimes with ten birds nesting in a colony. When they hatch we get a swarm of blue tits into the garden all trying to have a bath in my old frying pan.

It just shows that the more boxes you put up the more birds you will have to feed on your bird table, but think of the good you are doing to the environment.