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Blue tit in bird nest box

How Do Birds Claim a Nesting Box?


28th January 2019

Last Updated: 11th April 2024

Prime real estate is tough for birds to come by, therefore an early start will always pay dividends. Even though it’s only February our birds are already eyeing up the best nest sites and staking territorial claims to the best locations.

Competition for nesting boxes and birdhouses is fierce, so birds often stake a claim for a new home as soon as they’re sure they’ve found the right place. They do this by pecking around at the nest box entrance hole – a visual (and often loud) signal to other birds who might have designs on the place.

Are birds territorial?

Many birds are deeply territorial, particularly during breeding season. After all, with natural habitats dwindling, it’s increasingly difficult for birds to find suitable homes. So if they must, they’ll sing loudly to warn other birds or fight to keep hold of their home – or to claim a new one. Sparrows and starlings, for instance, will often take over nests created by other birds.

Are blackbirds territorial?

Territory is particularly important to blackbirds, for both forming pairs and nesting, and males will claim territory in their first year. However, they don’t just stick to their territory when hunting. They will roam further once their young have flown the nest, with territorial tensions picking up again in late autumn. The main competition for blackbirds comes from other blackbirds.

Are blue tits territorial?

Like many birds, blue tits are at their most territorial when nests are being chosen, and they sing to warn competitors off. Most territorial disputes are settled by late March, before breeding begins. Larger species such as great tits and house sparrows pose a threat as they sometimes evict blue tits from their nest. You can help blue tits by placing a nesting box with a smaller entrance hole, which larger birds won’t fit through.

A nesting tale…

As I write this article, snow is forecast over many parts of the UK and night-time temperatures frequently fall below freezing. While I will be venturing out in hat and gloves, our birds simply notice the days are getting longer and know the breeding season is just around the corner. Winter is already well and truly over for them.

For all birds but in particular our permanent residents such as robins and blue tits, the first spring clutch is the critical one. It may even be their one and only chance of raising a family this year! As such, claiming the best nest site and territory will give a huge boost to their chances of success.

Less dominant birds, inexperienced birds and others who simply follow the urge to breed above the availability of good nest sites can be forced into making poor decisions. A bad nest site is more vulnerable to predators, cold, dampness and even eggs falling.

The recent modern trend towards urban design nest boxes that look like beach huts, phone boxes, and all sorts of other colourful items are proving to be very popular but are often designed as novelties with scant thought for the occupants’ wellbeing. In a mild year, and with good fortune a new family of young birds will survive, but if the weather turns wet and cold, how will they stand up? If a woodpecker or squirrel visits, will the chicks and eggs be safe? Let’s hope every nest box that goes up this year is fit for purpose.

Great tit nest

I’m old school in this respect and probably have a lot in common with more experienced birds. The right property in the right location provides the best chance of my birds’ broods fledging. A solid nest box with a deep chamber out of the reach of a woodpecker’s beak, with thick insulating walls to keep chill winds at bay. A waterproof roof that keeps the nest warm and dry, along with plenty of warm natural insulating material to keep growing chicks safe and warm while mother and father fetch dinner. A clear flight path into and out of the nest box so that sparrowhawks and cats have nowhere to hide.

Yes, if I were a bird and found a prime nesting site during winter, I too would immediately stake my claim to it. After all, when you’re thinking about the future the perfect location is always worth investing in.

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