Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food

Spring is blooming all around us, with primroses, wood anemones and blackthorn flowering now and foxgloves on their way. Birds are building nests ready for eggs and the sky will soon be full of wheeling summer migrants such as house martins and swallows.

Wood anemone. Photo: S. Webber

With many of us being confined to our homes, those of us lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors. Being surrounded by nature is a fantastic way to boost our mental wellbeing, and gardens can be an invaluable resource for wildlife. By following some basic principles, you can turn your garden into an oasis for wildlife and enjoy some brilliant wildlife spectacles up close.

Planting for wildlife

Attracting insects to your garden is one of the primary ways in which you can help wildlife and also increase productivity of plants and trees. You can provide vital food resources for bees, butterflies, nectar-drinking moths and other insects by planting pollinator friendly plants with high levels of pollen and nectar. Lavender, verbena and buddleia are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but other plants can be equally important, such as goldenrod for hoverflies and late flowering plants such as ivy.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia. Photo: Andrew Fogg, www.flickr.com

The Royal Horticultural Society has a fantastic database of plants for pollinators so that you can choose plants that will flower across the seasons to provide a year-round resource for pollinating insects. Increasing the insect diversity in your garden will also encourage insectivorous birds and mammals into your garden. 

 

 

Wildflower borders and meadows

Another option is to create a wildflower border by scattering either annual or perennial wildflower seed mixes on to bare soil. It’s a low maintenance option that will provide invaluable habitat for insects. The UK has lost 96% of its species-rich meadows so these are a beautiful and valuable addition to the garden and broader landscape. It’s best to choose a mix of native plants such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds (annual) or ragged robin, buttercups, yellow rattle, knapweed and grasses (perennials). If you wish to create a permanent area of meadow grassland with perennials then the RSPB has a guide to creating a wildflower meadow. Wildflower seed mixes can be ordered online.

Wildflower meadow. Photo: cristina.sanvito, www.flickr.com

Seeds and fruit

It is also good to think about plants and trees that will produce fruits and seeds for birds. Native species such as hawthorn, elder, and rowan provide a fantastic autumn feast of berries, and if you leave the heads on sunflowers after they have flowered, goldfinches can take the seeds. Fruit trees such as crab apple offer blossom for insects and birds in the spring, and fruit for species such as blackbirds in the autumn. The wild type native trees and shrubs usually attract more birds than some of the cultivars, so they are worth seeking out. Most of these plants and trees can be ordered online.

Feeding birds and mammals

Finally, providing supplementary food for birds and other wildlife can help increase their overwinter survival prospects and give you the most dazzling display of wildlife behaviour.

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder. Photo: Nick Holden, www.flickr.com

Investing in a wide range of bird feeder types and food sources will ensure the most diverse range of birds visit your feeders. Peanuts are very popular with blue and great tits, sunflower seeds will draw in finches such as chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches and nyger seed is a favourite of siskins. During the winter birds need extra calories so suet balls can be supplied in feeders, or apples left out for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. In addition to hanging bird feeders, a bird table will offer space to ground feeders such as robins and chaffinches. Ensure that feeders are placed at height and away from windows, and not too close to cover, to avoid sudden predator attacks. Birds and mammals also need fresh water so offering a water bath with sloping sides is important, as well as providing a fascinating focal point for watching your garden wildlife.

Hedgehog. Photo: milo bostock, www.flickr.com

Gardens have been shown to be an increasingly important habitat for hedgehogs and with their numbers in steep decline, feeding hedgehogs can give them a much needed extra food resource. Leaving food such as tinned dog or cat food (excluding fish flavours) or cat or dog biscuits will encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, particularly if there is access from neighbouring gardens via a ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence. Hedgehog feeding stations or nest boxes can provide a useful way of protecting the food from other garden visitors.

Watching wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are a range of ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you great views of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects. Read our blog post to find out How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars. Alternatively trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors. They are standalone weatherproof cameras that use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. With options including the Bushnell NatureView Live View, that has interchangeable lenses for excellent close up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge that has amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on How to Choose a Trail Camera.

Recommended Reading


Wildlife Gardening
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Wild Your Garden
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The Garden Jungle

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Pb   #249709  £7.99  £9.99

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
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Butterfly Gardening
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Making Garden Meadows
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Wildlife Gardening Products

 

Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder

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Defender Metal Seed Feeder
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New York Slate Hanging Bird Table
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Droll Yankees Bird Lovers Suet Ball Feeder
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Challenger Peanut Feeder
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Defender Metal Niger Feeder
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Echoes Bird Bath
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Our ten favourite spring garden activities for children

This spring is destined to be a different and difficult one for most of us. Some things, however, remain the same – the leaves and buds on the trees are unfurling, the flowers are blooming, and the outside world is gearing up for a new year of growth and renewal. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then getting the children outside each day is a great way for them to burn off some energy and to get some fresh air and vitamin D.

With this in mind we have put together ten of our favourite garden activities, most of which are suitable for children (and adults) of all ages – although supervision may be required for the younger ones.

  1. Learn about the insects and bugs in your garden

Insects and bugs are fascinating to children of all ages. As soon as the weather warms up in spring, the garden fills with the buzzing of flies, bees and wasps, whilst the soil teems with beetles, worms and other creepy crawlies. A butterfly or sweep net is ideal for catching flying insects and those in the long grass, while a pooter can be used to pick up tinier specimens. Or simply get down on the ground with a hand lens and see what you can find. There are lots of great field guides that will help you to identify your specimens. FSC guides, such as the Woodland Name Trail and Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland provide a great starting point. Or, for a more in-depth investigation, the Guide to Garden Wildlife covers not only insects and bugs, but also birds, mammals and amphibians. It also provides suggestions for some great nature-related activities.

  1. Install a nest box (and watch the eggs hatch from the comfort of your home)
Image by gordon.milligan

It’s never too late to install a nest box. Even in late spring you may manage to entice a breeding pair of birds in time to lay a late clutch of eggs. At the very least, you will provide a useful winter roost space and the box will be ready for the breeding birds next year. You can even equip your nest box with a tiny camera which will allow you to watch all the nesting, rearing and fledging action from the comfort of your home. Kits are available which contain everything you need to get started; choose from wired, wireless or Wi-Fi options. See our blog post on nest box cameras for more information.

  1. Learn to identify plants

Rummage around in the wilder parts of your garden and you’re likely to find a wide range of plants that your little ones can study and try to identify. Even in the most manicured of outdoor spaces, you’re sure to find some ‘weeds’ that will provide a useful starting place. This is a great way to learn about common and Latin names and to study the different parts of flowers. The Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families will help you to identify the family to which your flower belongs, and the Collins Wild Flower Guide is a beautifully illustrated guide for those wanting a more in-depth look.

  1. Watch (and listen to) the birds
Image by Airwolfhound

Get to know the birds in your garden by installing a feeder. During the spring there should be plenty of wild food sources for them to use, but protein-rich foods such as black sunflower seeds, mealworm and high-quality seed mixes will provide a valuable addition to their diet. (Avoid feeding fat balls and peanuts at this time of year, as they can be harmful to young birds.) If you’re not sure what kind of bird you’re looking at, the RSPB website has a great identifier tool which includes information on 408 species found in the UK. Once you’ve identified your bird, the website also allows you to listen to its song, helping you to further improve your identification skills.

For a fun garden game, why not play bird bingo? Simply draw a 3×3 grid on a piece of paper, and write the name of a common garden bird in each square. Put a cross in the square when you spot the bird – the winner is the first to cross off all nine squares.

  1. Grow something pretty or edible

If you have space, now is a great time to sow some seeds. Sunflowers and sweet peas provide a great splash of colour in the summer and will provide food for birds (sunflower heads) and pollinators (sweet peas). Peas and beans are both easy to grow in a small space and are happy in pots. Strawberries and bush varieties of tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.

Making seed bombs is another excellent activity to do with children and, when planted in the garden, will provide much needed flowers for pollinating insects. The Wildlife Trusts have a recipe that’s simple to make, along with a list of recommended flower seeds to include.

  1. Be a weather watcher
Image by Paper of Light

In most temperate countries (and particularly in the UK), the weather is constantly changing, making it a fascinating thing to track and record. A weather diary is a great way to do this. You can include as much information as you like, or keep it simple with just pictures for the younger children. You could even make a weather board, where the day’s weather is displayed every day. Wind speed, temperature and humidity can be easily measured using an anemometer, and rainfall with a simple rain gauge. (For more economical options, use a large yoghurt container with measurements marked on the side as a rain gauge and a piece of lightweight fabric tied to a pole to track the direction of the wind).

Clouds are also endlessly interesting – learn about the different types with Weather WizKids which has lots of information and explains how they are formed, why they look the way they do and how we can use them to predict the weather. Why not also investigate some of the old-wives tales pertaining to the weather? For example, is it really true that ‘swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow’, or ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’?

  1. Make a pond
Image by Alex Thomson

Recent surveys have shown that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than they are in the wild. When planted with a variety of submerged and emergent plants, a pond will provide a complex environment with a variety of micro-habitats, and is also an attractive feature for the garden. Even in a small space it’s easy to use a bucket or other container to create a small aquatic environment which will provide valuable habitat for amphibians, insects and lots of other species. Take a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for a step-by-step guide to making a garden pond (including a handy list of suitable aquatic plants) or this RSPB page for advice on making a mini pond from an old washing-up bowl. Always ensure that younger children are supervised around water.

  1. Weave with nature

Weaving with natural materials is a fun activity and a great choice for several reasons: it is cheap to do and the results, while temporarily beautiful, can be composted, making it the ultimate in sustainable art. To begin, make a simple frame from four twigs, held together at the corners with a small amount of natural twine. Wind more twine from side to side around the frame leaving gaps between each winding, and then repeat in the other direction. Collect a wide selection of leaves, twigs, weeds, flowers, feathers and grass and weave into your frame in a pattern of your choice. For the best results, try and include as many different colours and textures as possible. Hang your masterpiece inside or in the garden to enjoy until the colours fade, and then throw it on the compost heap or in your garden waste bin.

  1. Eat some weeds

Did you know that lots of the weeds in your garden are actually edible? And what’s more, many contain higher amounts of trace elements like iron than their supermarket equivalents such as spinach and kale. Nettles are extremely common, very easy to identify, and can be made into a tasty soup (don’t worry, they lose their sting as soon as they are cooked). Similarly, dandelion leaves, fat hen, hairy bittercress and chickweed are prevalent in most gardens and can be used as salad greens. Children will love knowing that they have picked some of their meal for free, and that they are eating the garden weeds. If you’re unsure about what you’re picking, there are lots of helpful guides and images on the internet. Or you can invest in a book such as Food for Free, Foraging, or the compact and economical FSC’s Guide to Foraging.

  1. Draw from nature
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Sketching from nature was once a vital part of the naturalist’s skill set. Accurate drawings of specimens, alive or dead, played a vital part in classifying and sharing information about new species. Although this process has largely been replaced by photography, the act of putting pencil to paper and studying a specimen closely enough to draw it accurately can provide an excellent opportunity to study its structure and finer details. Flowers, plants and feathers are ideal starting points as they won’t fly or scuttle away; but insects, birds and other animals can also be fun to try. Keep notes of when and where your drawings were made and, over time, they can form the basis of a wonderful nature journal.

During these troubling times, we hope you can find inspiration in nature and we wish you all the best of health.

For a great selection of garden wildlife books and ID guides, take a look at the Garden Activities for Children collection at nhbs.com.

NHBS Guide to Reptile Survey Equipment

Reptiles play an important role in the function of ecosystems, whether as predators controlling prey populations, or as a source of prey for both birds and mammals. There are eleven species of reptile in the UK, of which six are native and all are protected under UK legislation, with the extremely rare smooth snake and sand lizard protected by additional EU legislation.

Sand lizard Lacerta agilis – Photo: xulescu_g, www.flckr.com

At this time of year reptiles are emerging from hibernation and ecologists are beginning to prepare for the survey season. Reptiles are active between March and October and surveys are carried out in April, May and September when the reptiles are at their most visible. In the main summer months (June – August) reptiles tend to bask less and are unlikely to use any artificial refugia, therefore surveys are not undertaken during this time .

The most common survey methods for reptiles include searching for basking animals on banks, piles of wood and edges of woodland, or laying out artificial refuges like corrugated iron sheets and carpet tiles or roofing felt, which are bedded down well into the vegetation. A wide range of reptile surveying equipment is available to buy on the NHBS website. For any advice please contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team who would be happy to help.

Corrugated Reptile Survey Refugia

Corrugated reptile refugia are often used in reptile surveys as they absorb heat and provide shelter from predators, making them an ideal basking spot, especially for slow worms or smooth snakes. The refugia are made from corrugated roofing material (bitumen soaked organic fibres) which is lightweight and waterproof. The material is free from asbestos,non-toxic and is both waterproof and long lasting. The sheets are 2.6mm thick and measure either 500mm x 500mm or 500mm x 1000mm, both with a corrugation depth of 40mm.

Reptile Survey Felt Squares

As with the corrugated refugia above, felt squares also create favourable conditions beneath them for reptiles and are commonly used for surveys, as they are light and will roll up for transport. These tiles are made from bitumen felt and are available in two sizes: 50 x 50cm or 100 x 50cm. 

Snake Hooks 

A snake hook is useful for catching and managing snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two snake hooks available, both made from aluminium which provides a tool which is both strong and lightweight. The standard snake hook comes in two sizes: 100cm or 130cm and has a wooden handle. The telescopic snake hook can be extended from 95cm to a total length of 140cm and the end of the handle has a comfortable rubber grip.

Snake Tongs

Snake tongs are also useful for handling snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two lengths of tongs available: 92cm or 122cm. They are made from an anodized aluminum shaft with a pistol grip handle to provide a lightweight yet strong tool enabling maximum holding pressure with minimal risk to the handler or the snake. 

Snake Handling Gloves

Snake handling gloves are designed to give you protection when handling snakes and to protect you when conducting snake surveys. The gloves are made from leather to minimise the risk of injury from bites and will also help mask your scent. They are available separately for the left or right hand.

N.B. These gloves are not suitable for handling venomous species!

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scale

Native reptile species in the UK range on average from 5 to 100g. Pesola scales are universally acclaimed precision scales which are reliable and durable. The Light-Line range features a transparent tube for panoramic reading and a long, clear double display with coloured marker ring. They are adjusted by hand with a guaranteed accuracy of +/- 0.3% the precision spring is made of corrosion-free, fatigue-resistant alloy, and the scales are impervious to humidity. 

Recommended accessories:

Silva Classic Compass

 

 

 

Rite in the Rain Spiral Bound Notebook

 

 

 

Reptile Holding Bag

 

 

 

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper

 

 

 

Lifesystems Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit

 

 

 

WeatherWriter A4 Portrait

 

 

 

A note on licensing

Please note that reptiles in the UK are protected by law. Any reptile survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/reptiles-protection-surveys-and-licences

If you have any quieries you can contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team on 01803 865913 or via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your bat box

Natural roosting sites for bats are in decline due to changes in building standards and countryside management practices. Installing a bat box is a simple and affordable way of providing much needed roost space for a variety of species and now is the ideal time to install one, before bats fully emerge from hibernation. However, placing your bat boxes in the correct location and at the correct height is essential to encourage bats to occupy them. With this in mind, we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about bat boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance, and the legalities of checking whether they are occupied.

Which bat box should I purchase?

Bat boxes can be placed in trees, on walls and on or in the brickwork of buildings. To help you choose the most suitable bat box based on where you want to locate it, take a look at our three-part series designed to help you make the right choice:  

 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Trees and Woodland

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Walls and Fences 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for New Builds and Developments

When is the best time to put up a bat box?

Bat boxes can be installed at any time of year, but they are more likely to be used during their first summer if they are put up before the bats emerge from hibernation in the spring. If you are installing bat boxes as part of an exclusion project from a building, it is best to erect the boxes four to six weeks before the exclusion. 

Schwegler 1FF Bat Boxes

Where should I hang my bat box?

All bat boxes should be positioned at a height of 3-6 metres (the higher the better) in an open, sunny position (6-8 hours of direct sunlight, or in a location where it receives the morning sun if this is not possible). Try to install the bat box where it will not be disturbed by bright lights at night such as porch or security lights. 

The most common location to hang a bat box is on a tree using a strong nail that is at least 85 mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user) should they be left in the tree when it is felled. For more details on how to hang your bat box to a tree, wall or fence, please read our blog on where to hang and how to maintain your nest box, which, although mainly focused on bird boxes, is equally relevant for bat boxes. 

How do I check whether the box is occupied?

Many bat boxes have an opening at the bottom and do not require any maintenance as the droppings will simply fall out of this space. If cleaning is required it is essential that you ensure that the box is not occupied before carrying out any maintenance. Once bats have inhabited a roost site they may only be disturbed by licensed bat workers. If you are unsure whether your bat box is occupied the best way to check for box occupancy is to observe the box at dusk (15 minutes after sunset for around 30 minutes) to watch for any bats leaving. Additionally, you can look under and nearby the box for guano (bat droppings). If there are bats present, wait until later in the season and then check again. It’s also a good opportunity to use a bat detector to identify the bats in your box – take a look at our guide on bat detecting for beginners.

Large Multi Chamber Bat Box

How do I maintain my bat box?

The best time to clean the majority of bat boxes (those suitable for summer roosts) is during the autumn or winter. Once you have ensured the bat box is not occupied you can open the box and clean out any droppings. Whilst you are cleaning the bat box it is a good idea to look for any damage, as this may mean it is unlikely to be used. The most likely damage will be broken seams around the roof, because the constant heating and cooling during the day can warp the wood slightly. To repair this, we would recommend using a roof sealant. 

Head over to the NHBS website to browse our full range of bat boxes. If you have any other questions or would like further advice, please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists (email: equipment@nhbs.com or phone +44 (0)1803 865913).

 

Installing nest box cameras at NHBS

Now is the time of year when many bird species are starting to defend territories more noisily and to look for suitable nest sites. To coincide with National Nest Box Week (14th to 21st February), we have been busy selecting our favourite nest boxes, updating our advisory blog posts on where to site nest boxes and how to put them up, and installing our own nest box cameras at our warehouse in Devon.

Great tit eggs – Photo: S. Webber

At this time of year, the birds will currently be exploring nest sites and should start bringing nesting material into the boxes in the next couple of weeks. 

Incubating great tit female – Photo: S. Webber

Given that it has been a mild winter, the breeding season should start earlier this year, but we still would not expect the first eggs to appear until April. This means that there is still time to get a nest box up in your garden to provide much needed nesting space for birds. You could even consider enjoying this amazing spring spectacle up close with a nest box camera.

 

 

Choosing the nest boxes and cameras

We chose two of our Camera Ready Nest Boxes because they have a perspex panel in the side to let in extra light, which gives better daytime images in colour, and a camera clip on the lid. We then selected two of our most popular cameras, the WiFi Nest Box Camera, which can stream footage directly to a smartphone or tablet, and the IP Nest Box Camera, which can provide a live stream to a website. There are many options available when it comes to selecting a nest box camera, and our blog post on Watching Wildlife – How to choose the right Nest Box Camera can help you decide between the different options.

The Camera Ready Nest Box and IP Nest Box Camera

How to install the camera in the nest box

The procedure for attaching the camera to the lid was the same for the WiFi and IP cameras. We found that the easiest way of installing the camera into the box lid was to attach the camera bracket to the lid first and then to attach the camera to its bracket afterwards. We unscrewed the camera clip with a large Phillips screwdriver, slid the camera bracket underneath the clip on the inside of the lid and then tightened the clip screw back up again. 

Unscrewing the camera clip and attaching the bracket

Then we attached the camera onto its bracket using a very small Phillips screwdriver. 

Attaching the WiFi camera to its bracket

With the WiFi camera we found that it was best to point the aerial downwards because our nest box roof was sloping. You can check the angle of the camera through the perspex panel on the side – it is best to have it pointing directly downwards and not angled. Ensure that the camera cable is running out of the notch on the back of the box so that the lid fits down snugly.

IP Nest Box Camera in position

Putting up the nest boxes

We sited the nest boxes on the eastern side of the building close to the tree cover along the river. To maximise the chances of occupation, it is advisable to site boxes for cavity nesting birds such as blue and great tits away from prevailing winds, and with a direct flight path to some tree cover. We attached them securely to the wall, approximately 2m off the ground – this is high enough to prevent interference but close enough to reach for monitoring and maintenance. We have put them as far apart as possible from each other and out of the sight of our bird feeder around the corner. We think that it may be unlikely that tit species would nest that closely to each other but if the boxes are occupied by house sparrows then these two boxes could form the start of a colony.

Connecting up the cameras

The IP Nest Box Camera connects via Ethernet cable directly into a router, hub or switch and then you need to choose software to allow you to access the camera feed and live stream to a website. We are currently trialling Anycam.iO. If there is no WiFi network, the WiFi camera can be used as a standalone WiFi source that you connect to directly with your smartphone or tablet. Alternatively you can tether the WiFi camera to your existing WiFi network and access it as a node on the network. The WiFi camera is viewed via an app on your smartphone or tablet and we are currently trialling ICSee Pro.

The current view in the IP camera nest box

 

 

Now we just have to wait and hope that the local birds decide that these are desirable nesting sites! For further advice on nest boxes and cameras, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

 

 

 

Recommended reading

 

 

 

Nestboxes
Your Complete Guide
£10.95

 

 

 

 

A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests
£24.99

 

 

 

 

 

Nests, Eggs & Incubation
£23.99  £40.99

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Tit
£49.99

 

 

 

 

Recommended Products

Nest Box Camera Kit
From £58.99

 

 

WiFi Nest Box Camera
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IP Nest Box Camera
£100.00

 

 

Side Opening Nest Box
£29.95

How to put up a nest box

We have previously looked at the best time and place to install a nest box. Now we’d like to get down to the details, and take a look at the actual process of putting the box up.

For most situations, you will want to put the box on a tree, fence or wall, so we will address each of these individually. (If you have a box that is designed to be built into a house wall or roof, then it is likely that your builder will care of this for you).

The tips below are suitable for both bird and bat boxes.


Fixing to a tree
Tree Sparrow Nest Box

There are several things to be aware of when attaching a nest box to a living tree. The most important is that the growth of the tree will affect the fitting. This means that boxes should be checked at least once a year to make sure that they are still secure. A box which has fallen to the ground is of little use to birds, and one which falls down with a nest and eggs inside is disastrous.

The most common way to put up a nest box is using a strong nail which is at least 85mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user), should they be left in the tree when it is felled. Nylon, brass, copper and hardwood nails can also be used but steel nails should be avoided as they will quickly rust, making them difficult to adjust or remove.

Using a screw instead of a nail can also be a good option and means that you can loosen it by a couple of turns every year to compensate for the growth of the tree. Screws are more suitable for hardwood trees as they will be very difficult to adjust in softwood. Make sure that all nails or screws are removed from the tree if the boxes are taken down.

An alternative to using a nail or screw is to tie the box to the tree. Wire and synthetic twine both work well and, if boxes are tied loosely, they can be edged upwards as the tree grows. Boxes can also be hung from a horizontal branch if they come with a suitable hanger (e.g.  Schwegler 1B).

Fixing to a fence
Urban Bird Nest Box

Hanging a bird box on a fence poses fewer problems than siting a box on a tree, as you will not need to worry about the wood growing. Use a strong nail or screw and check it annually to make sure that it still feels secure.

 

Fixing to a wall
WoodStone Swift Nest Box

To fix a box to a brick wall will require a power drill with hammer action, masonry bits and a screwdriver. You will also need wall plugs and screws which are small enough to go through the hole in the box. Using the drill, make a hole which is slightly longer than your wall plug. (You can use a piece of tape around the drill bit to indicate the depth to which you need to drill). Insert the plug and then screw in the screw, first threading it through the hole in the box. Having a second person to hold the box will probably be helpful and, if you are using ladders, make sure that you take sensible steps to ensure your safety. Appropriate eye protection and clothing should always be worn.


Head over to nhbs.com for our full range of nest boxes, aluminium nails and ladders.

The NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your nest box

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box

There is a shortage of natural nesting sites for birds and this has played a part in the decline of some of the UK’s most iconic species. It is easy to provide nesting opportunities for birds in our gardens and outdoor spaces, however, and with spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. Locating your nest boxes correctly is one of the key determinants in how likely birds are to occupy them and with this in mind we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about nest boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance as well as dealing with predators.

You can browse the full range of nest boxes we sell online and, if you’re keen to find out more, check out the BTO Nestbox Guide, which is packed with essential information.

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?

There really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes.  By putting up boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and possibly increase the chance of them staying and nesting there when spring comes around.  However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied if it is sited correctly.  Even after February there is still a chance that they will be used; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July. Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!

Where should I hang my nest box?

1B Schwegler Nest Box
1B Schwegler Nest Box

When it comes to nest boxes, the ‘where’ is much more important than the ‘when’.  Nest boxes must provide a safe, comfortable environment and protect the inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather.  This may be difficult to achieve; a safe location out of reach of predators may also be exposed to the weather, so have a good think before you start bashing nails in.

Nest boxes can be fixed to walls, trees or buildings and different styles of boxes are available which are suitable for each.  Fixing to artificial surfaces means the growth of the tree does not have to be considered which is useful for Schwegler and Vivara Pro nest boxes which last for at least 20-25 years: a significant amount of time in the life of a small tree.  If you’re planning any building work, remember that some bird and bat boxes can also be built directly into walls and roofs.

Incubating Great tit – Photo: Simone Webber

Locating boxes out of the reach of predators can be a challenge (weasels can climb almost anything), but there are things you can do to make it harder for them.  Boxes in gardens should be located where cats cannot get to them and prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.gSchwegler’s 1N deep nest box).  It is best to avoid nest boxes that have a combined bird feeder and boxes should not be sited too close to the bird feeders in your garden. Visitors to the feeder may disturb the nesting birds and the feeder could attract unwanted attention from predators.

For many species the height of the box is not crucial.  However, by placing it at least two metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference.  The direction of the entrance hole should be away from the prevailing wind and it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box.  Crucially, the box should be also be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly.  If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain.  Some species do have specific requirements for where a box should be sited (e.g. house martins and swifts nests need to be sited under the eaves); please see our product details for particular instructions for different species. Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance.  And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it, or invest in a nest box camera, so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.

Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?

Entrance hole protection plate
Entrance hole protection plate

As already mentioned, location is the most important factor when trying to deter predators.  Whilst some mammals can climb walls, a blank wall is fairly inaccessible so can be a good choice.  Ensure that the box cannot be reached by a single jump from a nearby branch or the ground.

Box design can also help deter predators.  An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent grey squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest.  Woodcrete and WoodStone boxes are too hard for any predator to break through.  However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal protection plates or provide additional protection with prickly twigs.  Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material.  If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can work well.  If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator.  Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic scarers and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success.

Great tit eggs – Photo: Simone Webber

How do I manage the nest box?

A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the autumn. It is important not to clean out nest boxes before August as they may still be occupied.  Wait until autumn and then remove the contents, scattering them on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Wear gloves and use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners. Boiling water can be used to kill any parasites remaining in the box, but remember to leave the lid off for a while for it to try out. Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them. The tit species do a thorough clean out of any old nesting material or roosting debris before they begin nesting again but it will save them energy if you can help out.

How many nest boxes do I need?

House Martin Nests
House Martin Nests

The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat.  As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes).  Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes.  However, even if you only have space for one box it is still worthwhile, providing it is suitably located. Many UK bird species need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.

If you are interested in installing a nest box camera into one of your bird boxes, take a look at our “How to choose the right nest box camera” article, for more information on choosing the model that’s right for you.

Further information about individual nest boxes, including advice on positioning, can be found alongside each nest box in our range.  If you have any other questions or would like any further advice, then please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

 

Watching Wildlife – Our New and Favourite Camera Kits

The Hedgehog camera kit

Our brand new Hedgehog Camera Kit includes a high-quality wooden hedgehog nest box, designed and tested by the Hedgehog Preservation Society. It also includes a tiny camera that can easily be screwed to the roof or side of the box with no modifications required. The camera then transmits footage from inside the hedgehog box to your TV or smartphone (3 versions are available) for you to view your hedgehogs from the comfort of your home. With the use of a USB Capture device (sold separately), you can also view footage on your computer/laptop and set the camera to record with motion detection, meaning you won’t miss a thing overnight.

If you already have a wooden hedgehog nest box and would like to attach a camera to it, please feel free to contact us for advice on 01803 865913 or at customer.services@nhbs.com.

Nest Box Camera Kit – Wired Camera

The Wired Nest Box Camera kit is a great choice if you haven’t used a nest box camera before. The kit comes with everything you need to get started, including a camera-ready nestbox. A wired camera produces reliable footage and is easy to set up following the step-by-step instructions.

 

IP Nest Box Camera

For those who have used nest box cameras before, or want more from their camera, an IP nest box camera is a good next step. With a bit of setup, you can livestream the footage from this camera to anywhere in the world.

 

Bushnell NatureView Live View

A NatureView Live View is a great camera for garden wildlife. It features a plug-in screen that helps you get your camera positioned correctly when setting up, and also comes with 3 close focus lenses for when you would like to record smaller animals such as birds or small mammals. It features a quick 0.2 second trigger speed and takes 14MP with 1920 x 1080p footage.

 

Browning Dark Ops Pro X 20MP

Browning’s Dark Ops Pro X 20MP is another great trail camera with some impressive specifications for its price. It records HD videos (1600 x 900 HD+) and 20MP images and has a 0.22 second trigger speed – great for capturing faster wildlife such as foxes or deer. It also features a built in viewing screen for easy setup and No-Glow IR LEDs that are invisible to humans or wildlife.

Starter Bundles

If you are looking to buy a trail camera and want to start capturing images and videos as soon as it arrives, then you may want to take a look at our starter bundle options. These bundles come with a memory card and batteries to ensure you have everything you need to get started.

Would you like some more advice on which trail camera or nest box camera is most suitable for you? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com . Alternatively, reply below and we will get back to you.

Autumn Hedgehog thoughts

Three’s a crowd?

The noise that a hedgehog makes when crunching dried cat food is surprisingly loud… and when you have two or three sharing the same plate, as I sometimes do, they produce quite a din! Such a din in fact that I can hear their munching and squabbling from my bedroom window – even with the windows shut. But what a satisfying racket! It is a real privilege and a delight to have hedgehogs using your garden. By feeding them and making your garden hedgehog friendly you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are doing your bit to help these beleaguered animals.

In the 1950s, there were possibly as many as 30 million hedgehogs living in the UK, but today there could be as few as 522,000 – that’s a reduction of 97%. Suggestions as to why the population of these enchanting animals has taken such a nose dive include: the intensification of agriculture and the loss of hedgerows (which are important wildlife corridors), the alarming decline of the invertebrates on which hedgehogs feed (almost certainly due to the use of pesticides) and another, perhaps surprising factor, is predation by badgers. It turns out that wherever badgers thrive hedgehogs struggle, especially in areas where there is limited cover. Moreover, we are sadly all too familiar with the sight of squashed hedgehogs on our roads and it is thought that many thousands meet their end in this way each year. Although hedgehogs are very urbanised, their road safety skills remain poor!

Hedgehogs are also struggling with the current trends of homeowners who are turning their gardens into “garden rooms”. By covering our gardens in decking, patio, artificial lawn or tarmac we are reducing their wildlife value including foraging opportunities for the hedgehog. The erection of impenetrable garden fencing only adds to the problem because it does not permit egress from garden to garden. Hedgehogs may roam about 2km and visit up to 20 gardens every night to seek out food sources.  Although surveys suggest that urban hedgehogs might actually be doing better than their rural cousins – these current gardening fashions are not doing anything to promote their cause. Our most popular mammal favours an untidy garden with fences full of holes.

So, what can we do to help the hedgehog?  As I write this blog we are marching through autumn, but hedgehogs are still out and about, trying to put on weight for hibernation. November 5th is approaching and this is a dangerous time for hedgehogs as they often seek shelter within bonfire piles, so please check for hedgehogs before setting yours alight.

You and your garden can become hedgehog friendly by just providing some or all of the following:

  • Make sure that hedgehogs can gain access in and out of the garden. Holes in fences only need to be 13cm square and they will soon be found and used on a regular basis. If you want to neaten off the hole, then consider the Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate which is made from 100% recycled plastic and available at NHBS.
  • Include compost heaps and overgrown areas in your garden as these are a great source of invertebrate prey
  • Do not use slug pellets and pesticides in your garden.
  • Provide a water source for hedgehogs such as a pond with a gently sloping edge, or a simple bowl

    Hedgehog House
  • Provide areas where hedgehogs can spend the daylight hours, hibernate and even produce their young. This can be a simple wood or leaf pile, or if you prefer you could purchase a hedgehog house or shelter of which there is a large range of choices within our catalogue and on the website
  • Make hedgehogs safe; as well as checking your bonfire piles, be careful with the use of lawn mowers and strimmers and make sure that netting cannot cause entanglement – for example, the bottom edge of fruit netting can be raised from ground level.

Of course, hedgehogs also appreciate some help in food sourcing and are quick to make use of our generosity. Feeding becomes particularly important in periods of pro-longed dry weather (such as we had this year) when soft-bodied invertebrates like slugs, snails and earthworms are less likely to be at large. It is also important to put out food towards the end of summer and beginning of Autumn when late born hoglets need all the help they can get in putting on enough fat to sustain them through the winter months. It is worth remembering that a hedgehog needs to weigh about 600g at the start of the hibernation period in order to survive until the following Spring.

Feed hedgehogs on wet or dry cat food and this can be supplemented with items like sunflower seeds, nuts and live or dried mealworms (Please feed these in moderation to ensure a balanced diet). There are also proprietary brands of hedgehog food available which provide a good balance of the nutrients that they need. But never put out bread and milk! Hedgehogs are intolerant to lactose and bread doesn’t provide the nutrition they need.

Hedgehog Bowl

Put the food out in a bowl or saucer in the same place every night and hedgehogs will soon learn where it is located. Of course, this food may also be found by neighbourhood cats and foxes, so you could try to protect the food by placing it within a shelter.

Browning Strike Force HD Pro X

It is great fun to put out a trail camera positioned near the food source so that you can obtain images and videos of your garden visitors – this is how I discovered that at least three visited my garden!

As winter sets in be on the lookout for hedgehogs that are out and about in daylight. An animal that is showing this unusual behaviour is likely to be a late autumn born youngster and probably starving. These animals need help and should be taken in and fed. It is best to contact your local wildlife hospital or rehabilitation centre for advice in this situation.

Hedgehogs are fantastic little mammals whose ancestors first appeared on this planet at least 52 million years ago. By giving some thought to the ones in your garden you can take comfort in the fact that you are contributing to their continued survival. It is very rewarding to have hedgehogs in your garden and certainly worthwhile putting up with their noisy nocturnal snacking.

 

The NHBS Guide to Bat Detecting for Beginners

How to watch bats

Watching bats can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby. If you want to go out and watch bats yourself, you may not have to travel as far as you think. Bats live all over the UK in the countryside, towns and cities. Head down to your local patch of woodland, park or even your own back garden around sunset and watch the sky. Some bats fly quite high in the sky around the tops of trees, others fly lower, even at eye level. If you have a large pond, river or lake nearby, watch the surface of the water and you might see a Daubenton’s bat skim across the surface catching insects. Warm, dry and relatively still nights are best when it comes to bat watching. You are more likely to see bats around sunset and sunrise and they can be seen between March and October. 

An Introduction to Bat Detectors

To really immerse yourself in the world of bats, it is worth using a bat detector.

Bats use calls for communication, navigation and hunting but these are at frequencies above that of most human hearing. So even if you’re watching dozens of bats above you, you’re unlikely to be able to hear their calls. Bat detectors are devices that convert these ultrasonic calls into audible sounds and because different bat species call at different frequencies, bat detectors can even help you identify which bat is calling. Bat detectors are great fun to use and can help you learn a lot about bats. There are several different types of bat detectors on the market, at varying prices and with varying features. We’ve highlighted some of our favourite, entry-level bat detectors below.

Magenta 4 & Magenta 5 – Heterodyne

Our most popular range of beginner detectors are the Magentas. The Magentas are incredibly easy to use with a frequency dial to allow you to tune to a certain frequency, a front-facing speaker so that you can hear the converted bat calls, and a volume dial. They use a method of call processing called Heterodyne which works by tuning to one frequency at a time. The only difference between the Magenta 4 and the Magenta 5 is that the 5 has a digital display of the frequency that you are tuned to whereas the 4 has the frequencies on the tuning wheel which is lit by a small light. You can use Magentas with headphones and even record the outputted calls with a recorder (available separately).

Batscanner – Super-Heterodyne

The Batscanner is one of the easiest detectors to use, automatically scanning the whole frequency range and adjusting accordingly when it detects a bat, displaying the peak frequency on the digital display. This means you don’t have to tune anything and you won’t miss a bat because you’re tuned to the wrong frequency. The call output is clear and the Batscanner intelligently filters out non-bat low frequency calls giving you a clean, noise-free output.

Baton & Duet – Frequency Division

The BatBox Baton is perhaps even more simple to use than the Magentas, with just 1 button operation – the on/off button. You do not need to tune this detector – it will automatically detect all frequencies simultaneously as it works through ‘frequency division’, where all ultrasonic calls are divided by a factor of 10, pushing them into the human hearing range. Audio is played through the front facing speaker and when the Baton is plugged into a computer, you can see sonograms (visual representation of bat call) on the software included with the Baton.

The BatBox Duet is a similar but more sophisticated detector that is great if you want to take your bat detecting to the next level. It used two modes of call processing: with heterodyne, you can tune the detector with the frequency dial and this is displayed on the backlit screen, much like a Magenta, but the detector also processes the ultrasonic sounds in frequency division mode and this can be captured using an audio recorder (available separately).

Echo Meter – Full Spectrum

The EchoMeter is a completely different type of bat detector but one that is very popular and has many amazing features, ideal for all levels of bat enthusiasts. It plugs into a compatible phone or tablet and with the help of a free app, turns your phone/tablet into a fully functional bat detector. The app displays live sonograms of bats and an intelligent algorithm identifies the most likely bat species based on the calls, all in real-time. The app can GPS tag your sightings and you can record, replay and download bat calls.

How can I help bats?

It is easy to encourage bats into your garden and there are many things you can do to help your neighborhood bats. Changing the way you garden and putting up a bat box can help tremendously. Have a read of our guide to helping your local bats for some ideas and inspiration.

Other useful equipment and books

Listed below are some great kit and books to get you started or develop your knowledge on bat detecting and bat watching:

DIY bat detector
£24.98
If you have some basic soldering skills and fancy having a go at a DIY project, our DIY Bat Detector Kit has everything you need to build your own, simple heterodyne bat detector.

 

Zoom Handy Recorder: H1n
£95.00
This small, handheld audio recorder is ideal for plugging into your bat detector and recording the bat calls you are hearing. Recordings are stored on an SD card and can then be viewed on a computer to analyze further.

 

Petzl Tikkina Headtorch
£19.99
This handy headtorch will keep your hands free when you’re trying to change settings or navigate in the dark. The Petzl Tikkina has a bright, clean 250 lumen beam and has a simple, one-button operation.

 

A Guide to British Bats
£3.50
FSC’s ‘A Guide to British Bats’ is a fold out, laminated guide to help you identify bats through physical appearance and call frequency.

 

British Bat Calls: A Guide to Species Identification
£31.99
This practical guide is perfect for learning more about bat detectors and bat species identification. It covers topics such as how bats use sound, bat detection methods,  analysis software, recording techniques and call analysis.

 

The Bat Detective: A Field Guide to Bat Detection
£24.99
This field guide is perfect for beginners wanting to start learning how to identify bats from their calls. As each topic is explained references are given to the relevant tracks on the CD. The 48 tracks found here are the first ever compilation of British bat recordings on CD.