Nestboxes - Type and Location


Primary Considerations:

What species of birds do I have in my locality?

What species of birds do I want to attract?

Have I got a suitable location for the bird box?

What sort of bird box do I need?

If I want to attract ‘new species’, do I need to ‘do’ anything else to help bring them in?

Which way should the bird box face?

How can I ensure I don’t attract the wrong sort of bird?

How can I keep squirrels out?

How do I attract some of the ‘less seen’ species?


Shelter - Basic Requirements

Birds need Food, Water and Safe Shelter to bring up their young.

Bird Boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Certain types of boxes, will attract certain types of birds. So choose carefully.

The ‘traditional’ bird box often looks like this;

Make sure any box you buy, or make, has the following three design features:

1   A removable lid or side panel so the box can be cleaned out.

2   A lid that allows rain to drain off and remains dry inside

3   A set of drainage holes in the base to allow any water to escape.


What sort of box do I want?

That’s rather dependant on what species of bird you hope to attract to the box. Boxes come in various forms. The traditional bird box with a hole in the front will attract a wide range of small birds, but there are two important factors, hole size and the depth of the box.

enclosed nest box for blue tits

Birds that nest in holes, will nearly always tend to go for the smallest hole they can get in and out of safely. This helps minimise predation from larger birds and mammals. The depth of the box also seems to affect the decision of a bird to nest or not.

The table below shows Common hole nesting Birds found in the Teme Valley and a guide as to the preferred hole sizes and depth of boxes:

                                          All the family of Tit.         28 mm Hole                     12 cm Depth min

                                          Nuthatch                        32 mm Hole                     12 cm Depth min

                                          Starling                          52 mm Hole                     30 cm Depth min

                                          Woodpeckers                60 mm Hole                     45 cm Depth min

                                          Little Owl                       100 mm Hole                   30 cm Depth min

                                          Jackdaw                        150 mm Hole                    40 cm Depth min

Be aware though, that birds like Woodpeckers will expand an existing small hole to suit, and birds like nuthatches will cement up larger holes to make them smaller.

Location is important with this box, as indeed it is with all boxes. It is important to ensure it is not in full sunlight, so as the young do not over heat. Similarly, it is preferable to keep them away from cold Northerly winds. As long as the tree canopy or similar provides sufficient shade, place the box on a tree or post in a south/southeast facing direction to minimise wind chill. Most of the hole nesting birds prefer a clear sight of the nest box, so there is usually little need to bury it deep in foliage.

Most importantly, ensure that is high enough off the ground to prevent cats getting to it.


Other birds prefer a more “open box”. These boxes mimic much more the hedge row and as such, birds more usually associated with this type of environment.

open nest box for robins wrens

Consequently, this type of box will favour, Robins, Dunnock, Wrens, Finches, Flycatchers, Wagtails, Blackbirds and Thrushes.

These sorts of box should in general, be located deep in foliage. Ivy or Virginia Creeper growing up a wall is an ideal location for the likes of Wagtails which prefer their privacy. Robins and blackbirds are often a little less fussed providing predators are kept at bay. Again, location away from direct sunlight is important.


If you have or want to try and attract other specific species, there are a few ‘specialist’ boxes which might be of interest.

Swallows visit us each summer. They usually make their nests under the eaves of a house. Preformed clay bowls (usually purchased) can put up under the eaves to help attract Swallows. But be warned, Swallows can leave a significant mess on the floor beneath the nest, so siting can be critical.

A clear flight path to the nest site will also improve the chances of getting Swallows to nest in the eaves.



Similar structures can be used for House Martins which make a similar nests out of clay



Tree Creepers are a little secretive bird, but relatively common in damp woodland within the Teme Valley. They will certainly venture into Gardens if they are quite enough. These birds work their way around a tree looking for insects amongst the bark. Thus trees with rough bark, such as oak, or ash are the sort of trees Tree Creepers like. In the wild, they tend to nest under lose bark close to the truck. Thus the nest box has been designed to mimic this.

As such it usually is of this appearance.

treecreeper nest box


Locate these type of boxes on the truck of a tree, away from the prevailing wind and out of direct sunlight. Tree Creepers are quire shy birds and so a quite area is preferable.


Sparrows are in steep decline in the UK. We have them in the Teme Valley and should do all we can to support them. Sparrows are very much a social bird. They prefer to live in colonies and as such, in the wild, will nest in close proximity of each other. Hence boxes for attracting sparrows tend to be more akin to blocks of flats, consisting of a box with several individual compartments.

sparrow terrace nesing box


These boxes can be put up almost anywhere, but typically, on the side of a building or barn away from direct sunlight will provide the right encouragement.


Tawny Owls are another common bird in the Teme Valley. They require a ‘long or chimney’ type of box. It needs to be long/deep box with a hole at the top for them to drop down into. Location is important and on a large tree under a branch is an ideal location. Ensure that there is a clear flight path to the box.

Owl box


Barn Owls require a more spacious box and where possible, a landing strip. As a consequence, these boxes tend to be very large.. There are various designs around, but ‘space’ is a key ingredient.

Barn Owls are open countryside feeders, looking for small mammals in long grasses. Accordingly, Barn Owl boxes are best placed either within barn like structures or out in the open, overlooking open countryside.

The Barn Owl Trust recommends that Barn Owl boxes are of the ‘deep’ type, with a minimum of 18” depth between the hole and the base. This is to minimise owlets falling out.

The base of the box is usually spread with wood chippings / course saw dust, as the Barn Owl will not normally lay on bare boards.

Other Issues

Grey Squirrels pose a problem in many areas of the Teme Valley and will readily take eggs from nests.

On smaller birds nest boxes, the open hole can often be protected by use of a metal reinforcement. These are commercially available, or indeed, it is fairly straight forward to make up with minimal DIY skills. Some more expensive bird boxes come with them already in place.

Forest Nest Box Birds > Nest Boxes

This helps to deter a determined squirrel as they will often chew away at a hole until it is large enough to get into the box to steal the eggs.

Location is a prime factor in positioning any box. Most importantly, especially with the smaller birds, do not locate the bird box in the immediate vicinity of any feeders you have.

Overheating is suffered by small birds if the box is open to direct sunlight. Ensure there is sufficient cover to shade the box.

Rain if it is allowed to ingress into the box will cause the birds to chill and perhaps die. Locate the box away from the wet side of the tree. (The wet side has the green algae growing on it)


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