08/02/2015
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Citizen science nest-boxers fight climate change

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Nest boxes can be constructed from many sorts of waste timber, such as the decking seen here, being used by a pair of Blue Tits. Photo: David Friel (commons.wikimedia.org).
Nest boxes can be constructed from many sorts of waste timber, such as the decking seen here, being used by a pair of Blue Tits. Photo: David Friel (commons.wikimedia.org).
The 18th National Nest Box Week (NNBW) runs from 14-21 February, and encourages people to put up nest boxes and contribute to our knowledge of how climate change is affecting their breeding success.

Despite the fact that it is still  winter, but many of our birds are already gearing up for the breeding season. Dunnock, Song Thrush and Great Tit are now singing strongly during breaks in the weather, and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are starting to receive the first records of nesting birds, with Mallard, Moorhen and Mistle Thrush already known to have fledged chicks.

Thanks to the efforts of BTO volunteers, who have been monitoring nests for over 75 years, we know that the breeding season in Britain is advancing, with many species of birds laying their eggs up to 30 days earlier than they did in the mid-1960s. 

Dr Dave Leech, Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO, said: “We know that increasing spring temperatures are driving this trend, but what are the repercussions? Are earlier breeding birds able to keep pace with their insect prey, the appearance of which is also advanced by the warming climate?  Or do they still miss the boat, leading to starvation of the chicks?”

“In order to answer these questions, we urgently need people to monitor nests of common birds, particularly in gardens where data on breeding attempts are surprisingly scarce. As well as providing a suitable site in a world where natural and manmade cavities are becoming scarce, nest boxes provide an ideal opportunity to record the progress of the eggs and young. So, while putting up a box may have some local benefit, collecting data on what's inside helps bird populations far beyond the boundaries of your own garden – National Nest Box Week is the ideal time to get involved.”

Hazel Evans, who runs the BTO’s Nest Box Challenge, an on-line survey where members of the public can submit data about nesting attempts, commented: “Preliminary results from 2014 suggest that, after two poor breeding seasons, Blue and Great Tits had a better year. The winter hasn’t been too harsh this season, so we’re hoping for a good uptake of boxes this spring.

"If you put one up during National Nest Box Week, you can use Next Box Challenge to record whether it is occupied, how many eggs the birds lay and how many chicks they rear. The project originally focused on boxes, but you can now record all nests, so look out for Blackbirds, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons, too.”  

Thanks to the efforts of BTO volunteers, who have been monitoring nests for over 75 years, we know that the breeding season in Britain is advancing, with many species of birds laying their eggs up to 30 days earlier than they did in the mid-1960s. The 18th National Nest Box Week (NNBW), which runs from 14-21 February, encourages people to put up nest boxes, providing the ideal opportunity to contribute to this study.

Dr Dave Leech, Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO, said: “We know that increasing spring temperatures are driving this trend, but what are the repercussions? Are earlier breeding birds able to keep pace with their insect prey, the appearance of which is also advanced by the warming climate?  Or do they still miss the boat, leading to starvation of the chicks?”

“In order to answer these questions, we urgently need people to monitor nests of common birds, particularly in gardens where data on breeding attempts are surprisingly scarce. As well as providing a suitable site in a world where natural and manmade cavities are becoming scarce, nest boxes provide an ideal opportunity to record the progress of the eggs and young. So, while putting up a box may have some local benefit, collecting data on what's inside helps bird populations far beyond the boundaries of your own garden – National Nest Box Week is the ideal time to get involved.”

Hazel Evans, who runs the BTO’s Nest Box Challenge, an on-line survey where members of the public can submit data about nesting attempts, commented: “Preliminary results from 2014 suggest that, after two poor breeding seasons, Blue and Great Tits had a better year. The winter hasn’t been too harsh this season, so we’re hoping for a good uptake of boxes this spring.

"If you put one up during National Nest Box Week, you can use Next Box Challenge to record whether it is occupied, how many eggs the birds lay and how many chicks they rear. The project originally focused on boxes, but you can now record all nests, so look out for Blackbirds, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons, too.”  

To find out more about nest boxes and how you can record what happens in your nest box visit http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc.

Here are Hazel’s five top tips for putting up a nest box.
1. Wherever possible, try to put the box up with the entrance hole facing north or north-east. This will ensure that the nest box is not in full sunlight for most of the day, helping to keep incubating parents and growing chicks cool.
2. Think about the location carefully: a position close to the top of a wall where cats might be able to access the box should be avoided, and do not put one too close to a feeding station – visiting birds could well put off a prospecting pair.
3. The optimum height from the ground for a nest box varies with species. House Sparrows seem to prefer a higher nest box, close to the eaves of a building; it is similar for Starlings, although these will use next boxes located on trees too. For Blue and Great Tits, head height is high enough as long as tip no. 2 is followed. Open-fronted boxes, preferred by Robins, can be located low to the ground in cover, but position them higher if the garden is visited by cats.
4. If making your own box use wood in excess of 15 mm in thickness – this will ensure the box doesn’t warp and change shape, and will also provide insulation when it is cool and help to keep the box cooler when it is warm. Different species need a different size entrance hole – for example, Starling (45 mm); House Sparrow (32 mm); Great Tit (28 mm); Blue Tit (25 mm); Robin (open-fronted).
5. Consider fitting an easily removable lid, or one that you can open to view your nest box. This will make it easier to record what is happening in your nest box, and make it easier to clean out at the end of the season.

To find out more about nest boxes and how you can record what happens in your nest box visit http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc.
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