Help Your Garden Nesting Birds

Help Your Garden Nesting Birds

The arrival of Spring is when all the work you’ve done for the birds in your garden pays off, and you can enjoy hearing them sing, and watching them pair off, build nests, and raise families. But remember that birdwatching and conservation can begin at home.


Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos)

The familiar Song Thrush (or Throstle or Mavis), is a shyer bird than the ubiquitous Blackbird, but is still commonly found in gardens across the whole of the country (more than a million pairs breed in the UK).

Spring Antics

The famed song (which males usually start singing in January) consists of loud repeated phrases, often involving some mimicry and often of great beauty. Singing usually takes place at dawn and dusk. The stretching and ducking courtship display is an amazing sight.

Nest Type

The female builds a classic neat cup- shaped nest (of twigs, mud, moss, leaves, grass etc) low down in suitable cover of trees, shrubs etc, concealed by vegetation.

How you can help

Never use slug or snail killing chemicals, as these kill the very food that Song Thrushes (and their young) thrive on. Leave snails for the thrushes!


Woodpigeon (Columba Palumbus)

The abundant (5.4 million pairs) Woodpigeon is a familiar sight in gardens across almost the whole country, and being our only properly large pigeon, is very easy to identify. The pale eye, pink bill and obvious white patches on the neck and wings help, too. Woodpigeons have a reputation for guzzling bird food like there is no tomorrow, and this is somewhat true.

Spring Antics

Woodpigeons are among the least fussy birds as to what time of year they breed. Autumn is apparently favoured but spring is included, though, and they will indulge in flirtatious billing and cooing. The males will sing the famous six-note cooed song (make up your own mnemonic!), and, endearingly, pairs will bill and coo.

Nest Type

Big straggly arrangement of sticks in the fork of a tree or concealed within a bush. Up to two white eggs. Young pigeons are raised in the nest until they are nearly adult sized (hence why many people say they never see baby pigeons!)

How you can help

As with all nests in the breeding season, leave bushes untrimmed (so as not to disturb nesting birds).


Goldfinch (Carduelis Carduelis)

The extremely exotic-looking Goldfinch almost looks too fancy to be a British bird. But it is, and is a common garden visitor; in fact it is the commonest finch in many gardens, these days (1.2 million UK breeding pairs).

Spring Antics

Males perform their lovely, rapid-fire, sweet, twittering, tinkling song in spring. They nest in loose colonies. You may see Goldfinches gathering nest material.

Nest Type

The nest is a small cup of grass, moss, roots and lichens interwoven with hair. It is situated in a tree.

How you can help

Continue putting out food for birds throughout the year. Goldfinches are suckers for seeds, with many having a fondness for tiny niger seeds.


Nuthatch (Sittidae)

The wonderful Nuthatch, famed for scampering down trunks headfirst (unlike Treecreepers or woodpeckers), is a bird which only appears in gardens if they are near suitable mature woodland.

Spring Antics

Nuthatches make a wide variety of sounds, including a far-carrying, ringing, repeated ‘tew tew tew’ song the males sing in spring. Males are slightly richer chestnut coloured on the flanks etc.

Nest Type

They nest in old holes (such as those made by Great Spotted Woodpeckers), lining the outer part of the hole with mud to make a tight fit to keep out larger intruders.

How you can help

Nuthatches may nest in suitable nestboxes (with a 32mm diameter hole) hung quite high in mature trees. They are voracious visitors to provided peanuts, as well as other seedy food.


Mistle Thrush (Turdus Viscivorus)

Our largest common thrush, the Mistle Thrush is a relatively shy bird (at least compared to the fearless Blackbird) and has a fondness for mature gardens. They are fierce defenders of food resources in gardens.

Spring Antics

The Storm Cock (to use a colloquial name) starts singing from mild days in winter through into the summer. The mournful song somewhat resembles a Blackbird’s in tone, but the phrases are shorter and seemingly more stereotyped.

Nest Type

The nest is large and untidy (though well concealed), built in late February, usually at considerable height (eg 30 feet up) in a tree, at the top of, for example, a snapped off branch.

How you can help

Mistle Thrushes will feed on fruit (including fallen fruit), and other typical bird food provided.


Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos Caudatus)

The cute little Long-tailed Tit is a frequent visitor to gardens in the non-breeding season, when they form in large family groups. In spring, you are more likely to see pairs.

Spring Antics

From February onwards, Long-tailed Tit pairs start the laborious process of nest building, gathering large quantities of moss, lichen, spider webs and feathers to line the nest. It can take more than three weeks to build the nest.

Nest Type

The nest itself is a unique structure, basically a dense ball of feathers, lichen and moss, with a hole in it to go in and out. It is usually concealed within a bramble or similar bush.

How you can help

Long-tailed Tits readily come to feeders. Also, if a Sparrowhawk has killed a bird in your garden, you can leave the mass of feathers for the Long-tailed Tits to find (to line their nest)


Chaffinch (Fringilla Coelebs)

One of our commonest and most widely distributed birds, there are more than six million pairs of Chaffinch nesting in the country. Actually knowing where they nest is surprisingly tricky, however.

Spring Antics

Starting in February, male Chaffinches will start to proclaim and defend their territories with their sweet, descending songs, ending in ‘weetchoo’. If you can hear a singing Chaffinch from or in your garden, then there is likely to be a pair nesting somewhere nearby.

Nest Type

The nest is a well camouflaged, intricately constructed cup shape in a tree or bush. Only females make the nest. Like most small birds, the young are fed primarily on invertebrates.

How you can help

As with most birds, the best way to help Chaffinches is to continue putting out food and water throughout the year.


Jackdaw (Corvus Monedula)

Jackdaws are the perky little crows with small bills, grey cheeks and necks and pale eyes. Of all our corvids, they and Magpies are the most likely to nest in your garden (or on your buildings!)

Spring Antics

In spring, Jackdaws get naturally flirtatious and these naturally noisy birds can be even more vocal, calling their distinctive ‘jack’ calls. Egg laying is between early April and late May (single brooded).

Nest Type

Jackdaws are hole nesters, often choosing hollows in mature trees and nesting colonially. They will also use alternative hollows, such as chimney pots, and line the nest with sticks, wool and hair.

How you can help

Jackdaws will readily adapt to nestboxes. You could try putting out Tawny Owl nestboxes (or similarly very large boxes), placed as high as possible, to attract them to breed in your garden.


Coal Tit (Periparus Ater)

The Coal Tit is our smallest tit (even smaller than the Blue Tit) and is particularly fond of coniferous and mixed woodland, though will appear in broadleafed woods and mature gardens (especially with conifers).

Spring Antics

From late winter onwards, listen for the repetitive singing of male Coal Tits. The song consists of double repeated notes, not unlike that of the Great Tit, but with a slightly softer ‘pew’ note.

Nest Type

Like all our true tits (Long-tailed Tits are members of a different family), Coal Tits nest in hollows, and so take to nestboxes. However, they prefer boxes which are only a few feet off the ground.

How you can help

Coal Tits will come to ‘Blue Tit style’ nestboxes, but like them to be set less than 3 feet off the ground. Keep feeding the birds through spring and summer.


Magpie (Pica Pica)

Not everybody’s favourite bird, the handsome Magpie is a real character and can brighten up any garden! Seen objectively, the striking pattern and wonderful iridescent colours of the wings and tail make this one of our most underrated and spectacular looking birds.

Spring Antics

Magpies will defend a territory (which usually covers about five acres) and will ‘sing’ some curious notes, different from the usual machine- gun chatter, to proclaim, the territory. They are a bit less obtrusive and sneaky near the nest site.

Nest Type

Magpies produce a large, domed, rather raggedy nest of sticks, usually in a tall tree under cover of vegetation, or in thorny bushes.

How you can help

Like most birds which come to gardens, Magpies will feed on a variety of food put out for them. By feeding them, you may even encourage them not predate other birds’ nests!


Goldcrest (Regulus Regulus)

Britain’s smallest bird is nowhere near as uncommon as many people seem to think. In fact, there are more than 600 thousand breeding pairs in the country. Like most of our woodland species, they are not uncommon visitors to gardens, especially where there are conifers.

Spring Antics

In spring there is usually an increase in the amount of singing: ‘see see see’ notes followed by a very rapid and complex little flourish. Territorial birds may have confrontations with rivals, spreading their crowns to reveal the orange ‘crest’.

Nest Type

The nest is small and very neat, being a tiny ‘hammock-like’ structure made on the thin twigs of a conifer. Multiple brooded, females may lay more eggs even before the first brood have fledged.

How you can help

Grow conifers in your garden! Goldcrests may come to fat ball feeders (remember, never use the net type ones, as they can trap birds’ feet).


Swallow (Hirundinidae)

Not a bird everyone thinks of as a garden species, the presence or absence of nesting Swallows depends greatly on where you live. These are almost exclusively rural birds.

Spring Antics

Arriving in the UK from April onwards, the males start to proclaim territory with a complex, rapid-fire twittering song. Swallows usually return to the same site each year.

Nest Type

Swallows nest in out buildings (barns, sheds etc) usually in rural locations, such as the edge of villages or farm buildings. They require decent feeding habitat with plenty of insects. The cup-shaped nest of mud and straw is affixed to a beam or ledge near the roof.

How you can help

Leave an opening in any suitable outbuilding for the Swallows to come in and out. You can add additional wooden platforms in these buildings for the nest to be built on.

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