Ray Collier Wildlife in the North – Nesting boxes

jackdaws mands Mar 2012 012It is still not too late to make last minute changes or refurbishments to nestboxes in the garden.  This is despite the fact that there are plenty of birds now singing or displaying.  Some of  the most active birds  are the starlings and recent reports of a cuckoo calling at  Spean Bridge may well have been just this bird.  Starlings are well known for their mimicry and will imitate not only other birds but also any notes, even a telephone ringing!   These attractive birds are not only singing but also going into their nest holes where they are often colonial nesters with a few pairs  breeding close to each other.    Starlings lay bright blue eggs with no markings.  Occasionally  small pieces of bright blue eggshell can be  found under their nests having been discarded by the adults once the chicks have hatched.

Chaffinches are now in full song and the greenfinches are calling with their odd sounding “wheezing” notes that you do not expect from such a small rotund bird.   In contrast the flocks of siskins are still coming to garden  feeders and their high pitched tinkling  notes are very musical and attractive.   As for the hole nesting birds, the blue tits seems to spend more time closer together although still coming regularly  to the feeders after peanuts.  Great tits are behaving in the same way and their double call  notes that sounds like “Teacher, teacher” seem everywhere.  Both the great and blue tits will have already investigated their future nesting sites but will not have been taking in any nest material  yet.

As for my checking of nestboxes, most of them have been satisfactory although a few needed attention.  One had problems over the lid and needed two new hinges and clasps to hold the lid down securely in time of high winds.  This is a triple box designed to take three pairs of house sparrows as there are three entrance  holes and compartments.  House sparrows have never looked at this nestbox, as far as I am aware, but last year one end of the box was used by a pair of blue tits who successfully reared young.   This year I have been putting wood chippings into the bottom of the boxes as I am sure  that this encourages birds to utilise the box as if the chippings are a start to their complex nest building.

There is always competition  for nest sites and perhaps even more so with the larger boxes.  One such design is meant to cater for the local resident wild mandarin ducks and already  they have been investigating  the two large nestboxes I can see from my study window. The photograph shows a female mandarin looking out.  They will still stand a chance as the early nesting   tawny owl seems to be totally absent this year.  These woodland owls are so early they often have eggs before the mandarin ducks try to find a suitable box.  Another competitor  is  the jackdaw and, on rare occasions, goosanders and starlings have been known to use such boxes, such is the intense competition for such holes.

Such competition is found in  surprising ways and this has been the case with  the house martin nests under the eaves of the  house.  A few years ago it was noticed that the house  martins were being  ejected by the more belligerent house sparrows.  The house sparrows  would wait  until the house martins had half  built their nests  then  take over.  One solution was the artificial house martin nestboxes  but not all the house martins use  them as some pairs  will  still insist on building their own.