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My Dad, Charles Barlow, wrote the following e.mail and I couldn't resist publishing it! - Ed

We have just passed National Bird Box week again - a sign that spring is definitely around the corner! The theme for this year is "Safe siting of boxes", which rang a bell and jolted my memory!

A couple of years ago I was given a box with a 25 mm (or 1 inch) hole and I sited it on an apple tree. It was perhaps March or April when a pair of tits declared an interest in the box. But, although they were in and out the box many times, they were obviously not happy with the hole. I watched the two birds hacking away like they were crossed with a woodpecker and this activity continued for two or three days. I was getting almost as frustrated as I guess was the birds and I had to do something to help. At risk of frightening the birds away I enlarged the hole with my electric drill. I guess it became one and a quarter inch diameter and hoped it would be satisfactory. Apparently it was satisfactory and in no time at all the pair of birds had taken residence. It was only then that I realised that instead of blue-tits, these must be great-tits. I had read that great-tits prefer a nest hole larger than one inch. Trouble being that I could not tell the difference between the species.

All went well for a time. I watched the great-tits bring nest material. I guessed when it was egg laying time and then the less frequent coming and goings before eggs were hatched, followed by frantic flights as they were obviously feeding chicks. I guessed that soon it would be fledgling time - but alas that was not to be. One morning I noticed that the nest box top was on the ground, under the apple tree and I could not understand how or why. Also on the ground were 5 or 6 dead baby birds, almost fully feathered. It was a sad sight. After examination of the box I found that screws had rusted and the plywood had swelled, allowing the top to come away. This was not the complete answer but the problem was solved the next day when I spotted next door's cat in our apple tree, poking in the nest box.

Perhaps I should have gone and frightened the cat away. At one time I perhaps would have aimed a stone at such a villain, but I just watched and made a mental note that if I erect nest boxes I have a responsibility to deter predators and ensure nestlings can be raised safely.

About the cat: She is a kind of tortoiseshell colour and was a stray until being fed regular by our neighbour. They adopted the cat and told us how it was a clean animal, causing no problems at all. They were happy to allow the cat the run of their house. Then our neighbours got interested in caravaning and although they could take their two dogs they could not take the cat. We were the first to be asked if we would feed the cat when neighbours were on holiday. Tins and boxes of cat food were brought round and each day we would fill up the cat bowl near our neighbours back door. After a few days, if we were a few minutes later than usual, the cat would come and remind us. During the summer months she likes to stay out at night and we did not have any problem. Neighbours went with caravan for the week-end, then again and each time we fed the cat. Then one day she came in our house and indicated she was hungry and wanted us to feed her, although neighbours were at home! The cat made it clear that she had adopted us and since that day she has not been seen on next doors property. We call her Tammy and we are confident that she will not leave us. Tammy is a lovable animal, clean and no trouble at all in the house. She chases birds and is still interested in nest boxes. There can be only one way to stop her predation instincts, but we do not kill cats.

National Nest box week this year was in February. The central theme was DIY nest boxes and I know the R.S.P.B. are encouraging safe siting of boxes, out of the way of cats and other predators. Perhaps next year the theme might be aimed towards responsible feeding of birds that visit our gardens. It would seem that such a lot of people put out bird food in the winter and assume that natural food is in abundance during the summer. This could be true for some birds but others may be so conditioned to our bird tables that they have lost the habit or knowhow of using their food gathering techniques. If we assume a guardianship role over our feathered garden visitors we must accept the responsibility for the well being of birds in summer as in winter. Perhaps the RSPB will publicise a sensible bird feeding regime that we can all feel better about.

LInks to useful sites:

Build your own bird nesting box - www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/cornwall/species/birdbox.htm

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