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Why are blue tits pecking at my nestbox in autumn?

Sent in by Phil Gittus, Rednal, Birmingham

This week we have had a number of Ask an Expert questions from people reporting blue tit activity at nest boxes. Although the breeding season should be over for most of the garden birds, it does appear to be quite common to still see birds, especially blue tits, hanging around the boxes. There are a couple of explanations for this.

Even though the breeding season has only just ended, many birds often start looking for potential nesting sites during autumn and winter to use next season, so it is a good idea to put up new nestboxes now. However, serious investigation and the final decision for blue tits usually wait until February/March time. Pecking round the entrance hole could be the blue tit's way of assessing the quality of the wood and whether it will be good enough to raise a family in, although in the spring it’s thought that the pecking could be part of the male blue tit's display. Blue tits may also be exploring the nestboxes to see if they harbour any tasty insects they can feed on.  

Nestboxes are not just useful in the spring and summer but provide convenient roosting places for birds. Although it is hard to imagine, 61 wrens were once found roosting together in a single box. It is recommended that nestboxes be cleaned out at the end of the nesting period and old nests removed. However, by placing dry hay or wood shavings in the box before putting it back outside, you can provide a warm and sheltered place for birds, and sometimes even small mammals, to use during the winter.

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