Managing our nestboxes

We monitor and maintain more than eighty nestboxes of various types. National Nestbox Week is a good time to share details of how we look after ours.

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Managing our nestboxes

The pylon nestbox in the RSPB Car Park, shown here with a kestrel chick peeking out, is perhaps the best known nestbox at Rye Meads. The Ringing Group however monitors and maintains more than eighty boxes of various types across the whole of our coverage area (both the Reserve and the Sewage Works). With National Nestbox Week in full swing, this is a good time to share details of how we look after ours.

Everyone is familiar with the basic Tit nestbox, a simple wooden box with a hole in the front. We have our fair share of Tit nestboxes, but we also have many other boxes of different types, and they all take quite a bit of time and effort to manage.

A lot of that effort comes in the breeding season, of course. We aim to check our boxes often enough that we can record the laying time (from which we can calculate the approximate date the chicks will be ready to ring), the clutch size, the hatched brood size, and the final outcome of the nest. Then in winter we clean them all out and repair where necessary. With well over eighty boxes to check, that’s quite a task!

When the time comes to ring the chicks, we need to judge the right age for this. Too young, and the ring may slip off over the feet, or could risk damaging the growing toes; too old, and the youngster may want to leave the box prematurely. Tits are obliging in that they time their breeding to match the peak availability of tree caterpillars to feed the young, so that generally all the tit boxes are ready to ring at more or less the same time. We do a public nestbox tour round the RSPB reserve each year to ring the young Tits, which any visitor can come to. In 2019, it’s currently planned for 25th May, although this date can change if breeding is earlier or later than usual – that’s mainly affected by the weather. If you want to come along, book this with the RSPB – contact details are here.

Most of our boxes require the use of a ladder to access, although few are as difficult as this owl type nestbox, which needs two stages of ladder. Sadly it hasn’t had any owls lately, but is usually occupied by Stock Doves.

We have a number of types of nestbox. There’s the familiar Tit box, which come with two sizes of hole – the smaller ones are to give Blue Tits a chance, as otherwise the Great Tits would take all the boxes. We also have larger boxes to try to attract Owls and Stock Doves, some open-fronted ones for the likes of Robins, the Kestrel boxes as per the car park model, and a few informal platforms to try to encourage the likes of Blackbird and Swallow to stay and nest.

The RSPB has put up many other types of box, aimed at Swifts, House Martins, Little Owls, although so far none of these species has been attracted. Nature abhors a vacuum, however, and some of these have been used by other occupants!

There are also two Barn Owl boxes – you can see these to the right of the Scrape from the Draper Hide: they are the large triangular boxes mounted on poles. So far we’ve had Barn Owls nest there just once, then there was a bad winter which one of the parents didn’t survive and we haven’t had any since.

Our wooden boxes need renovation every few years, although we are using ‘Woodcrete’ boxes where possible – these are made out of concrete using sawdust and waste paper rather than sand, and although heavier and more expensive, last a lot longer. You can see both types here!

If you can help us with the cost of nestboxes and rings for the chicks, that would be very much appreciated – why not become a Friend and we will keep you in touch with all our activities? Click here for more details.

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