BTO: It’s Valentine’s Day for birds, too

Great Tit     Picture: BTO/Tommy Holden
Great Tit Picture: BTO/Tommy Holden
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National Nest Box Week starts on Thursday, so there’s no time to be lost if you have a nesting box still to put up, according to Graham Appleton of the Thetford-based BTO.

Even in the worst of the January snow, there was a male great tit confidently singing away in our fruit garden.

By perching at the top of the jasmine, he could see his chosen nest-box in one direction and the feeding station in the other.

I guess the presence of energy-rich sunflower hearts gave him both the resources and the confidence to belt out his repetitive ‘tea-cher, tea-cher’ song for much of the day.

As long as other great tits could not take his seeds, he looked like a top bird – a great tit with all the food his ‘lady’ might need and a ‘cool pad’ to which to entice her.

The use of nesting boxes is somewhat complicated at this time year, as winter patterns break down and thoughts turn to building nests. BTO colleagues receive reports of strange goings-on from many garden birdwatchers with cameras attached to their boxes. It is not uncommon for a bird to start adding moss to the nest on a sunny day. As the afternoon draws to a close, activity ceases and tit-the-builder may well go to another hole to spend the night. Along comes another bird that has been using the box as a night-time roost for three months or more and who resents the change to the interior design. He (or she) may well throw the extra material out before settling down for the night.

This sort of activity may be repeated on several days until tit-the-rooster comes back to the box while tit-the-builder is still hard at work, at which point a fight is quite likely to ensue. If you thought that nest-box cameras were only interesting when there are chicks to be fed, then think again!

Many great tits will already be paired up for the year, although traditionally they are supposed to get together on St Valentine’s Day, at the same time as other birds. That’s why the BTO starts National Nest Box Week on February 14 every year.

By the end of the month it will really be getting too late to be putting boxes up.

If you want to learn more about providing homes for your feathered neighbours you can either visit the BTO website or contact our partners, Jacobi Jayne, on 0800 072 0130, to be sent an information pack.

The great tits at home seem to be ready for the season ahead.

As long as they both keep their heads down when the sparrowhawk swoops past and avoid the traffic when crossing the busy road next to the fruit garden, perhaps they will be able to start building a nest in March, lay a clutch of five to eight eggs and raise a healthy brood of chicks.