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Give a bird a home

15 February 2015

The British Trust for Ornithology is encouraging the public to give a bird a home by taking part in National Nest Box Week.  From the 14th to 21st of February, it’s hoped that bird boxes will start popping up across the country providing vital homes for birds of many different species.  There’s a real need for artificial homes because natural nest sites such as holes in trees or in old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are tidied and old houses are repaired. 

Blue tit in a nest box (Photo: BTO)


Of course you can put up nest boxes at other times of the year. This season on St Kilda we are planning on a new phase of the Leach’s storm-petrel nest box project.  Three years ago we modified some existing nest boxes by inserting a smaller nest chamber inside. This worked well and breeding success increased year on year. Unfortunately, the original boxes are now in a pretty poor state so we’ve decided to start afresh.    Luckily, St Kilda is very fortunate to have many ‘friends’ – people who have visited or worked on the Island and are keen to lend a hand when asked.  It's the contributions made by these folk that has enabled us to embark on a rather ambitious mission! Petrel occupying a nest box (1)


One day last year I took a group of Work Party volunteers on a night excursion to hear the petrels coming ashore.  One member, Steve MacDonald, was particularly enthused about this and afterwards we chatted at great length about the nest boxes.  Steve’s a builder by trade and at the end of the Work Party he had become chief engineer of our project! Designs were discussed and within a few months he had worked on a couple of prototypes sending both out to St Kilda for me to look over. Now that’s commitment, thanks Steve!Version 1 of the Leachs storm petrel box built by Steve MacdonaldVersion 2 of the Leachs storm petrel box

So, that was one box built, but we desperately needed a few more pairs of hands if we were to stand any chance of getting 25 (or even more) built before the start of the breeding season.   Once again,  another ‘friend’ offered their help.   Richard Castro is a member of the Inverness branch of The Men’s Shed group, a growing initiative that provides a community space for people to share skills or learn new ones.  At the beginning of January, Steve braved terrible snowy conditions to journey North to give Richard and a few other Shedders a box building demonstration. Steve, on the left, giving a nest box building demonstration to the Shedders

NTS are quite rightly pretty crash hot on Health and Safety so it was decided that specialist tools and safety kit should be used to prepare the nest box materials. For a short while it looked like this was going to slow the progress of the project but Davy Fraser - a builder from Beauly, and the man responsible for the superb refit of the Manse - jumped on board.  Ever since then Richard and a few other Shedders have been working in earnest to build the boxes.Richard (left) and Jimmy waiting for materials at the Mens ShedInside the Mens Shed, construction has startedSome of the Shedders (folk from the Mens Shed group) with a batch of almost complete boxes


They've made a fabulous start and it looks like they'll make even more boxes than I first anticipated. Fabulous news!  


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