Nest boxes are handmade enclosures made for birds to nest in. Different sizes, with different shapes, entrance holes and features can host a range of birds from tiny blue tits to barn owls. Though many tree-nesting birds evolved to make their homes within the trees themselves, Britain, like much of the world, has lost many of its larger, older native trees. It is these old trees that often possess the cavities and cracks suitable for wildlife habitats. Therefore bird boxes positioned on younger trees can help provide a substitute place to live.
Battlemead Common, a 45 hectare piece of land recently acquired by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) in 2017, was identified as an area suitable to introduce bird boxes. The area is one of Maidenhead and Cookham’s most important wildlife sites, with more than 200 species of birds, insects, mammals and other creatures sheltering, feeding or breeding here and at least 130 different plant species.
A collaboration between different members of the local community, including the RBWM Natural Environment team, WildCookham (a local conservation group) WildSL6 (a local young adult conservation group) Little MuddyMe (a local outdoor preschool) and Deep Roots Forest School was initiated. Braywick Nature Centre, a branch of RBWM, provided the unmade nest box components. These were constructed by the MuddyMe and Deep Roots children. A total of 27 smaller blue tit/great tit nest boxes 3 larger boxes for barn owls were constructed.
Over two days in February and March 2021, the boxes were erected across Battlemead Common (See Figure 1). RBWM, WildSL6 and WildCookham provided volunteers. Locations of each box were marked using GPS and what3words, and uploaded onto a map (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: The different locations of the nest boxes. On the bottom left of the image is box 1 and the numbers progress roughly clockwise, with the bottom right box being 27. The boxes roughly skirt the margins of the West Field of Battlemead. Within two weeks of establishment at Battlemead, local wildlife photographer Mick Vogel videoed evidence of blue tits entering the boxes, checking for suitable nesting territory. These birds often spend weeks checking various spaces for parasites or other issues during Spring, before choosing a suitable place to begin creating a nest in April time.
In November 2021, the contents of the nest boxes were checked by a group of volunteers comprising WildSL6 and WildCookham, plus some others. The boxes required investigation before the coming February to confirm evidence of their usage in the 2021 nesting season. After that time, new birds may have begun entering with nest materials for the 2022 season.
The collection method involved using ladders and an extendable camera positioned into each box. Evidence of usage was based upon nest materials found inside, such as feathers or twigs. As well as the recently erected tit boxes and barn owl boxes, 2 previously established tawny owl boxes and two mandarin duck boxes (erected by the Bisham Nest Box Group) were investigated.
Tit Box number
Unknown (could not reach)
Of the 27 tit nest boxes, 11 were empty. 1 box could not be reached due to increased water preventing the ladder position. We estimate therefore that ~50% of recently established boxes were used in the 2021 breeding year.
Of the 15 boxes containing materials; 9 boxes were found to contain definite nests.
1 box was found to have just 2 eggs, 1 box had 6 eggs abandoned and 1 contained broken eggs. This suggested habitation of birds but unsuccessful young roosting. (Parents abandon nests for a number of reasons including lack of food or predators).
Further, 1 box just feathers and two just droppings. These boxes are included in those we believe to have contained roosts but some uncertainty is present.
5 larger boxes were investigated. None contained the nest materials of the bird it was created for. 3 were empty and Also the BO box, TO Box and MN box were found to be empty.One MN box was found to contain 2 stock dove eggs. One TO box contained a stock dove nest that was removed.
Stock dove nest (removed)
Stock dove nest (removed)
Conclusions and further work
For an initial nesting year and slightly late box establishment, we consider the ~50% inhabitance very successful. We do hope that in the 2022 breeding year, more boxes are used.
The boxes will continue to be monitored during the 2022 breeding season. Sightings of birds between the months of May/June, when the parents are frequently flying in and out of their boxes with food for the young chicks is an optimal time to get a better insight into their usage. RBWM and local community groups including WildSL6 would like to involve the community in the Battlemead nest boxes. Contacts will be made with local schools to run visits to the boxes, with perhaps opportunities to adopt boxes. Camera traps recording sightings of the boxes would provide fascinating information and encourage engagement.
The high level of use of the tit boxes suggests a real need for their existence in urban fringe areas such as Battlemead, and the Natural Environment team at the council has plans to refresh and establish many more boxes across its wildlife reserves and at other sites across the Borough.
This project could not have taken place without the brilliant work of many individuals and teams. With special thanks to: Brian Clews, Mike Copland, Sarah Bowden, Rebecca Wells, Jim Dimmock, Mick Vogel, WildSL6 and many others.
In conclusion, from putting the nest boxes up there was evidence that the local wildlife have been using them. The next steps are to check the boxes every few months and see if any pattern or further conclusion can be made.