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Novelty nest boxes putting garden birds at risk, warns RSPB

Novelty nest boxes putting garden birds at risk, warns RSPB

Birds charity warns that brightly-coloured next boxes could attract predators, while metal, plastic or ceramic designs could give inadequate protection from the elements.
Novelty bird nest boxes in unusual colours and designs could be dangerous for birds, the RSPB has warned.

Bird houses decorated in bright colours or shaped to look like real houses, caravans or even windmills have become increasingly popular in recent years.

But the RSPB has warned that the unusual designs could risk the lives of birds nesting within them, because bright colours could draw the attention of predators while poor designs may leave birds at risk of cold, damp or overheating.

Next boxes should not be brightly coloured, should have no perches and should be well-insulated, waterproof and robust, it advises.

Metal roofs "retain too much heat and can have fatal effects for baby birds on warm, sunny days" while ceramic designs are poorly insulated. Metal and plastic boxes also "suffer from condensation causing baby birds to get damp and cold".

The birds charity is urging people to install traditional nest boxes to help garden birds like sparrows and starlings, numbers of which are in decline.

Speaking during National Nest Box Week, Ben Andrew, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: "Rather than choosing unusual designs and materials, people should stick to traditional, wooden nest boxes; they really are the best and often the most cost effective.

"People tend to forget that a nest box will eventually contain tiny helpless, vulnerable baby birds so the appearance of the box should be the last thing on your mind."
Colourful novelty designs are available from a wide range of retailers including the DIY and gardens giant Homebase.

In a press release promoting its range of "super sophisticated bird houses", in autumn 2014, Homebase said the products were "flying off the shelves".

It said that the products were popular with "image conscious buyers, eager to outdo neighbours with the latest word in avian luxury" and that they were a "dream come true for every British dinner table conversation".

Current models on sale at the retailer include a £29.99 cottage-shaped birdhouse available in bright colours including tangerine, and a £69.99 bird house designed as the “archetypal English Pub”, described as "full of old English charm complete with pub sign and window boxes".

A Homebase spokesman said: "As a socially responsible retailer, we ensure all of our bird boxes are suitable for nesting. The whole range is made from wood with more decorative boxes finished in outdoor, water-based, non-toxic paint.

"We also specify within product descriptions if a nesting box is more suitable for particular types of birds. In addition, we offer advice to customers online that includes how to find a safe location for you bird box and how to create a bird friendly garden."

Mr Andrew of the RSPB said that bright colours could make nest boxes more obvious to animals like squirrels or cats, advising "the more inconspicuous the better".

He admitted that the charity did not have "lots and lots of evidence" to show birds were coming to harm in the novelty boxes, but said it had received occasional calls from people saying they had discovered a nest box full of dead birds and that the box had been metal.

The charity had had a number of calls from bird-lovers worried about the novelty boxes being sold and said the risks were mostly "common sense".

/Photo: British Trust for Ornithology/

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