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How to create a home for House Sparrows

Possibly my favourite skill I’ve learnt over lockdown is building House Sparrow nestboxes. You could buy one, but if you’d like to have a go at building one yourself (I highly recommend it!) this is for you. Even if you have zero DIY skills (like I did a few months back) it’s still 100% worth doing, the sense of achievement is so satisfying! (Even when it looks like it’s been shot at by a machine gun…)

Before you get started, a quick checklist (there are droves of materials/tools etc you can use, this is just what I personally like):

· Wood-kind of important! Anything around 1.9cm thick is ideal (apart from MDF!). However, note that hardwoods (broadleaf trees) are heavier, more expensive, and sturdier that softwoods (needle-bearing trees).

· Sandpaper-surprisingly helpful at ensuring everything fits smoothly.

· Screws-I use 4mm x 30mm pre-countersunk (they have a flat head instead of a round one) galvanized (dipped in Zinc to stop corrosion) screws. You can use nails, but as the wood ages, it expands around the screw/nail, so the smooth-sided nails fall out much faster.

· Roofing felt-the same stuff on rabbit hutches! This’ll be tacked to the roof to shield it from the weather.

· Roofing Tacks-think of a screw and a nail having a baby, and you’ve got roofing tacks.

· Saw-I use both mechanical and, hand saws, but it doesn’t matter massively, just mechanical ones are far quicker (but I prefer handsaws because I find it easier to cut precisely).

· Drill-Could also use a screwdriver, but you’d be there for quite a while.

· Scissors/Stanley knife-for cutting the felt.

· Claw hammer-to hammer in the tacks.

· Clamps-whether you’re using a mechanical or manual saw, these are AMAZING at steadying the wood.

· Ruler, Pencil and Marker-For measuring + marking up everything. (The marker is for drawing on the felt-as it’s made up of shards of gravel, you discover very quickly that dragging a pencil over it blunts it pretty quickly…)

Also, if you’re using the mechanical saw, remember your PPE! (Goggles + face mask as splinters etc will be flying all over the place).

1: Mark up your wood (using a plank of wood opposed to a sheet makes this whole process much quicker!) to the measurements (to RSPB specifications):

*Note*-the drainage holes should be done with a drill bit about 15mm across, and the ventilation holes 25mm.

2. Assemble the birdbox. A little fiddly the first few times you do it, so a clamp (or the hands of a willing family member/mate) is invaluable! Before you screw anything though, do a quick dry fit. Stand up all the different components to check what it’ll look like once assembled and adjust where needed. (On a side note, I have never made one birdbox without changing/re-doing part of it, trust me it’s worth it!). Take this opportunity to give all the sides a healthy sanding, to neaten it up.

Once you’re sure it’ll be fine, line up all the parts and drill a hole where you want each screw to go (these’re your “pilot holes”-I use a 2mm bit for this) to stop the wood from splitting when the screw is forced in. Then, using a countersink (a wide, cone-shaped bit) make a depression round each pilot hole. This is so when you put in the screws, the heads aren’t stuck out. All that’s left is to screw it all together (leave the roof for now, it’s not quite ready).

*Note*-remember to use galvanized screws (the gold ones) as they’ve been dipped in Zinc to prevent rusting/corrosion in the elements.

3. Add the details. All those juicy grubs parent House Sparrows will post into your nestbox all have to come out somewhere-and drilling five holes (I use a 8mm bit) gives it somewhere to go other than another chick’s head.

It’ll also get hot in the box, so drill two holes in either side (about 1.7cm is ideal) to help ventilate it. Whilst you have a drill handy, to help with instillation later, drill two more holes into the backboard, to give you somewhere to feed the screws later (I use a 2.5mm bit).

And the most important hole of all: the access hole. This determines whether or not you’ll attract a House Sparrow, or a Blue Tit. For House Sparrows to be able to use it, the access hole must be at least 32mm in across. (You’ll need a purpose-made bit for this.)

4. Roofing. While you often see nestboxes painted, there’s a slight danger the paint could A. wash off and act as a form of pollution, or B. get ingested by something like a curious squirrel, so I recommend using roofing/mineral felt instead. However, you can only get it in long roles (I believe 10mx1m is the smallest) so you may have a bit leftover if you’re buying it purposefully for nestboxes!

Draw around your roof with a marker, adding the thickness of the wood to it. For example, if you have a 15x21cm roof and your wood is 2cm thick, then you’ll need a 17x23cm rectangle of felt, so you can fold it over to be tacked into the sides of the roof. Then cut it out (boring old kitchen scissors should do) and tack it to the roof, trimming off the excess. Hammer them into the front, and sides, but fold the excess on the back up, so you can tack it to the backboard. Just to secure it, screw the roof to the front and sides of the box.

5. Install + wait patiently with a cup of tea (more than one cup may be needed). Pretty self-explanatory. Installing it should be relatively easy with your pre-drilled pilot holes, all you need is a step ladder with someone steadying it (ideally no-one you have any deep feud’s with) and something to screw it down with.

Ideally install the box at 3m+, where House Sparrows are happiest nesting (though they do nest lower if cover is provided-like a nice hedge). Bucking the general stereotype, they also prefer nesting on houses, so putting it in the eaves is ideal.

And to heighten your chances of having someone moving in quickly-try to face it NE, so the strongest winds and harshest sunlight stay off it. Then all you’ve got to do is wait! Don’t be disheartened if it’s not an immediate hit, House Sparrows are very sedentary, rarely roaming more than 100m in their life!

If you’d like to know more/have any questions, please get in touch!

And as always thank-you for reading.

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