Check your chicks for the BTO

01 Mar 2011 | No. 2011-13

After another severe winter, how will our garden birds fare when nesting this spring? With warm weather spreading across the country, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) needs householders to help them to find out!

  Gardens provide a huge range of options
for birds seeking a place to nest.

 The BTO is calling on householders across the UK to help them find out how many young birds are reared in the nation’s gardens in 2011, by getting involved in the BTO’s on-line Nest Box Challenge, launched on 27 March 2011.

Gardens provide a huge range of options for birds seeking a place to nest. Most of us are familiar with the more typical urban species such as House Sparrows and Starlings, both now in decline, but an increasing number of species are selecting our back yards as sites to raise their offspring. Recent analyses of BTO data suggest that over a third of UK Blackbirds may nest in human habitats, favouring thick hedges and shrubs, while over a fifth of Blue Tits also breed in our villages, towns and cities.

So how do these urban breeders fare in comparison to their country counterparts? This is a subject of great interest to conservationists, including Dr Tim Harrison of the BTO: “Results from previous small-scale studies focusing on Blue and Great Tits have suggested that they tend to lay earlier, but produce fewer eggs and therefore raise smaller numbers of chicks. But is this the case across the UK, is it true for all species and has climate change affected the relative breeding success of our garden birds? You can help us to answer these questions by taking the Nest Box Challenge.”

Nest Box Challenge participants are asked to collect very simple information about the number of eggs and chicks in any nests that they find in their garden and whether the nestlings fledged successfully, which they can then record on the BTO website. The BTO has produced a careful code of conduct for participants so that nesting attempts are not put at risk. Originally the project focused on nests in nest boxes, but it has since been expanded to incorporate open-nesting species such as Blackbirds and Chaffinches, so now even the Collared Dove nesting on your satellite dish can be recorded! Nest Box Challenge provides the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about nesting birds and make your own contribution to science in the process.

According to BTO Research Ecologist, Dr Dave Leech, predictions for the 2011 season are currently mixed. “Information collected by BTO volunteers indicated that 2010 was one of the best breeding seasons on record for many resident and migrant species, possibly due to the effect that the preceding cold winter had on the timing and abundance of their insect prey. In contrast, Blackbirds appeared to have a poor year in 2010, the lack of rainfall making it difficult to probe the ground for invertebrates - with March rainfall approaching a record low in 2011, the outlook is perhaps less positive for this species than for Blue and Great Tits.”

For a free wall chart of nests and eggs please email gbw [at], telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

  1. 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.
  2. Nest Box Challenge is organised by the BTO. Since the project was launched in 2007, in conjunction with the BBC, 23,500 nest boxes have been registered across the UK - join the nest monitoring community by registering today!

Contact information

Dave Leech  (Nest Box Challenge Organiser)
Office: 01842 750050  (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: dave.leech [at]

Tim Harrison (GBW Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at]

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2011-13

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


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