Putting up a nest box

Where you put your nest box is every bit as important as what it looks like. The highest priority when siting a nest box must be to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which birds can nest successfully. 

Putting up a nest box. David Tipling
Putting up a nest box. David Tipling

Top tips for putting up your nest box

  • Not too close to another nest box - nest boxes of the same type should not be sited too close together as this may promote aggressive behaviour between neighbours. 
  • Shelter your box from the weather - the front of the nest box should be angled vertically or slightly downwards to prevent rain from entering the nest box. Make sure it is sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight.
  • Height from the ground should be about 3 metres - small-hole boxes are best placed 1-3m above ground on tree trunks, but avoid sites where foliage obscures the entrance hole - a clear flight path is important. If there are no trees in your garden, the next best option is to place your box on the side of a shed or wall. Care must be given to make sure the box isn’t easily accessible to predators.
  • Open-fronted nest boxes should be hidden from view - attach your box to a wall or fence that has shrubs and creepers growing against it. 
  • Make sure cats cannot get into the box - ensure that it is not easily accessible to predators (cats and squirrels). 
  • Consider a metal plate around hole to deter squirrels - this preventive measure that can be used to deter squirrels from gaining access. These plates are available commercially and can be purchased from any good garden centre or bird care company at very little cost.
  • Keep nest box away from bird feeders - as high levels of activity of visiting birds could disturb nesting pairs.
  • Use galvanized or stainless steel screws or nails that will not rust. If fixing boxes to trees, galvanised wire can be used to tie the box to the trunk or hang it from a branch. Make sure to regularly inspect these fittings to ensure the box remains securely attached.
  • Traditionally, nest boxes for small birds are put up in the spring - pairs begin to prospect in the latter half of February, so a box put up at the end of the winter stands a good chance of attracting nesting birds. However, it is never too early or late to put up a nest box, as some birds will use them to roost in during the winter months.
  • Houses for house sparrows - a nest box with a 32mm entrance hole fixed on the wall of a house could well be used by House Sparrows. For Starlings try a box with a 45mm entrance hole.

Nest boxes - our essential guide

Get up to speed with our free essential nest box guide, which includes plans for four common species.

Blue Tit chicks in nest. Mike Mainwairing
Blue Tit chicks in nest. Mike Mainwairing 

When will I get birds in my nest box?

Be patient, but if a box is not used for several years in succession it may be worth moving the box to a more suitable location.

There are many reasons why your box is not being used such as the presence of natural nest cavities nearby and the location of territory boundaries. Therefore, while some boxes may be taken up immediately, others may remain vacant, often for no apparent reason.

Can I look inside my nest box?

Yes, provided you approach quietly and carefully, it is perfectly safe to look into a nest box from time to time to see how things are progressing once the birds are incubating their eggs. Most birds will sit very tight on their nest if you just peek in, though an early morning visit may find the bird off her nest in search of a quick meal before nest duties call her back.

Should I clean out the nest box?

When the breeding season is over, old nests can be removed and the box cleaned out. Bird Protection Law permits the cleaning out of nests between 1 September and 31 January. Any dead eggs must be destroyed promptly and cannot be kept or sold.

Some hole-nesting species, including sparrows, may have second or third broods in the same nest. The nests of these species should be left until sometime during the autumn when it is certain that they are no longer in use.

Nest Boxes: Your Complete Guide

If you want to know more, try our in-depth book. Written by Dave Cromack and drawing on BTO expertise, this new book provides the perfect guide to building, erecting and monitoring nest boxes for a broad range of bird species. It's a perfect gift for the avid bird fan.

Find out more and buy today


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