Homes: the hole story

A blue tit mid flight on its way into a nestbox

No matter how big or small your space is, whether it's a blank canvas or well-established, if you’ve got loads of experience or none whatsoever – anyone can do this, and our nature needs you. It’s easy to help the nature on your doorstep.

A blue tit mid flight on its way into a nestbox

Home sweet home

Discover how to turn your patch into paradise with wildlife gardening guru, Adrian Thomas. Try these simple tips and you can make your space work for you and give wildlife a boost too. You don’t even need green-fingers to give it a go. In this feature, Adrian looks at homes sweet homes!

Adrian holding a large nest box

An easy way to help nature.

We all need a safe place to live and for wildlife it’s no different. One of the biggest causes of wildlife declines is a lack of suitable habitat – or the right kind of place to eat, shelter and raise a family. We can give nature a helping hand by giving it a home. Whatever the size of your outdoor space, there’s something simple that you can do.

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The hole story.

It seems so simple, but providing holes is one of the easiest ways to help wildlife in your outside space. In fact, it is crucial – some animals needs holes to survive. Take blue tits, for example. You can put out all the bird food you like, but if they don’t have a suitable nesting hole, they won’t have anywhere to raise the next generation.

This requirement for holes is easy to explain – it is all about safety and shelter. The world outside your back door is a jungle where creatures face all sorts of dangers, especially when they are trying to sleep, or when they have vulnerable eggs, chicks or youngsters. A hole that is just about big enough for them to squeeze through means nothing larger can reach them, and they are also well protected from anything the weather can throw at them.


How you can help.

The problem is that our gardens, yards and balconies can be rather short of natural holes. Our trees are often not old enough to have developed the nooks and crannies that wildlife craves, and we tend to patch up any holes in our buildings.

But it’s so quick and simple easy to add some artificial holes in the form of nestboxes. The key thing to realise that any old hole won’t do: each hole-dweller is looking for the right sized hole in the right place. For example, small birds such as blue tits and great tits are happy in small nestboxes, while others such as swifts may need more specialist homes.


What size suits you?

Different types of nestboxes will attract different birds. Nestboxes for tits have relatively small holes (26–29mm diameter). While those for some of our more threatened garden species are bigger. House sparrows need a 32mm hole, starlings need a 45mm hole in an over-sized box, and house martins and swifts need boxes under the eaves with a clear fight line in.

Why not put up more than one box? You could put up a selection. You could also think beyond birds, too: hedgehogs and bats could also do with your help.


Bought or built, a nest box is brilliant!

If you like a spot of carpentry, you can knock up your own nestboxes, and we have several templates for you to follow. But if you’re not Handy Andy, there are plenty you can buy, starting with our wide selection in the RSPB shop, each of which comes with a full instruction leaflet.


Life, camera, action!

There’s so much pleasure to be had from watching – and hearing – wildlife move into the accommodation you’ve provided. And with many boxes these days coming with mini-cameras so you can livestream the action, there’s every chance to turn it into a full daily drama in spring.


A few handy hints...

  • Bird boxes should face between north and east, to be out of the blazing sun.
  • Bat boxes should be in a warmer, elevated position, with a clear flight line into them.
  • Place boxes well out of reach of cats – most boxes should be at least 2m (6 feet) off the ground.
  • Avoid nestboxes which have a perch outside the hole or which are too shallow from the hole to the bottom of the
  • box, both of these are invitations to nest-robbing predators.