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Nests and Nestboxes

WATCH Birdbox7th feb2015WATCH Birdboxes7th feb2015It wasn’t til I was about 30 that I realised that wild birds don’t live in nests all the time. They only build them to rear young, the rest of the time they roost in hedges, trees, reeds etc. But the way we are taught about wildlife as children is so anthropomorphic that a bird’s nest has to be described as its ‘house’. The ‘Jungle’ is still used as a backdrop in stories about animals that live on the Savannah; American kids I taught in the Netherlands thought there would be raccoons, cougar, fireflies and hummingbirds ‘out there’ in the European countryside; that’s what their cartoons, computer games, films and storybooks show them.
It has always surprised me how inaccurately we learn about the natural world – well most kids know that animals don’t wear clothes (why does Donald Duck always have a bear bottom?), but there’s still a lot more to find out.
So I have just started a kids Wildlife Watch group, under the auspices of my local Wildlife Trust. Last week we made nestboxes from kits kindly made for us by another volunteer out of floorboard timber. She has a rig set up in her garage to cut the pieces to the right shape and measurements (different species need different sized entrance holes). The 25 kids that turned up – ages ranging from 5 to 13 – with their parents, had fun screwing and nailing the pieces together and then took them home to put up in their own gardens. This gives them a reason to watch what goes in and out of them, and this is just the right time of year to do it as our wild birds come into their breeding season. We also made bird feeders by mixing lard with seed and pressing it into a pine cone, and went for a walk round my garden looking at different nestboxes that had been put up last year and looking inside some to see if they had been used. I also pointed out an old apple tree with a natural hole in it that I have seen a Blue Tit using the last two years. (Another used my water pump).
It made me realise that we only help a small number of species with putting up nestboxes – the hole-nesters like Tits, sparrows, robins, nuthatch, etc. Other garden birds like Blackbird, thrushes, finches and many more have to find their own nest sites in suitable deep cover like hedges, brambles, fir trees that may be just as absent as old holey trees. The peanut, fat and seedfeeders we put out also favour a small range of birds; so we are preferentially selecting out the birds like Blue tits to become more common. Is this good or bad? I can’t decide, but at least we are helping some wildlife to survive the onslaught of human activity, and helping a new generation of children to think about it.
Interesting comment I heard the other day – that Man is a keystone species in all our environments, as well as animals like the top predators and those that change the landscape like beavers and grazers. Why hadn’t I thought of it like that before? Of course he is! Has been for thousands of years, and that won’t change; but at least we can have the conscience to mitigate the effects a little.
Anyone interested in joining their local Wildlife Watch group should look up their local Wildlife Trust.
©Jan Miller-Klein 2015
Jan Miller-Klein is a writer on wildlife gardening and natural history. On her website www.7wells.co.uk you can find plants for wildlife plus her books including ‘Gardening for Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects’.

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