Catch who’s cuddling in your garden this Valentine’s Day

01 Feb 2011 | No. 2011-05

It’s not just humans who will be snuggling up in a love nest this Valentine’s Day. The country’s garden birds will be huddling together in nest boxes to survive the night – and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) wants the publics’ help to find out which ones!

Blue Tits have proved to be antisocial sleepers

 This Valentine’s Day, human love birds will be wining and dining – but spare a thought for our feathered companions as they try to endure the last few weeks of winter. Gardens are a refuge for birds during cold weather, and throughout this winter participants in the BTO’s Roosting Survey have recorded huge numbers of individuals spending the night cuddled up together in nest boxes and other cavities. The tiny Wren has led the way, with a recent, stunning, observation of 37 birds scrummed together on Anglesey.

Another sociable sleeper has been the House Sparrow, the Roosting survey showing that individuals tend to bed-down with at least four compatriots, and that groups can reach double figures! Conversely, Blue Tits and Great Tits have, thus far, proved to be antisocial sleepers – both of these feisty species preferring to spend the night alone. Indeed, Elizabeth and Malcolm Bigg in Mayford, Surrey recently photographed a pair of Blue Tits fighting fiercely in a nest box where roosting has been common this winter (see photo). With spring just around the corner, such competition is likely to intensify.

The BTO’s Roosting Survey has been collecting fascinating records all winter and will draw to a close at the end of February. Taking part is easy and great fun: participants choose one evening to see if, and how many, birds use a nest box, roosting pouch, or other cavity in their garden for a kip. Observations can be made using a nest box camera, by eye at dusk or dawn, or by counting bird droppings in a nest box on the afternoon before and the morning after the chosen evening. With dusk still descending quite early, the Roosting Survey can be fun for the whole family.

Tim Harrison, BTO Roosting Survey coordinator, said: “Thousands of birds flock into our gardens for a kip during winter and nest boxes are proving to be cosy bedrooms. This Valentine’s Day, before your romantic dinner, why not spend a few minutes watching your garden nest box to find out which birds are sharing the love? With unusual ‘roosters’ such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Tree Sparrow having been recorded through the survey – you never know what might turn up!”

He added: “Almost five million nest boxes are provided in UK gardens but, while their importance during spring and summer is obvious, the value of boxes and other cavities for roosting birds during winter is less clear. Householders are helping us to find out much more – so please get involved. If you are too busy romancing this Valentine’s Day then not to worry because the BTO’s Roosting Survey runs until the end of February.”

For more information and to take part visit:

Any queries, please contact the Garden Ecology Team: gbw [at], telephone 01842-750050, or write to Roosting Survey, GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

  1. Results of the BTO Roosting Survey: results will be shared on the BTO website –
  2. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact information 

Tim Harrison (BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (not in the office 14th Feb 2011)
Email: gbw [at]

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07845 900559 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2011-05

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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