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Naughty nutkins nibble northern nestboxes

by Rod Kebble

Following our last post we heard from Philip Opie, who is a volunteer at Margaret Wood, another CRT property, near Barnsley in Yorkshire.

A nestbox eaten by squirrels at the Countryside Restoration Trust's Margaret Wood.

A nest box at Margaret Wood with its hole enlarged by squirrels, despite the metal plate fitted to protect it against this sort of attack. (Photo © Philip Opie 2012)

It seems they also suffer from damaged nestboxes — though in their case the culprits are grey squirrels. Philip knows this for a fact, as a squirrel bit him one January when he took the front off a nestbox to clean it and found a drey inside — made from small twigs and leaves — complete with very young, naked baby squirrels and an angry parent.

The squirrels are not deterred by metal plates on the front of the boxes — they simply munch through them. Philip is now making nestboxes from decking board and we hope that this is more squirrel-resistant.

Although a nestbox intended for redstart (it had a slot-type entrance) was hijacked by squirrels who left a drey in it, this is the only example that can definitely be attributed to them at Pierrepont.

Other nestboxes appear to have been taken over by great spotted woodpeckers rather than squirrels because there is no sign of a drey but the floor has been pecked, as though the birds were trying to enlarge the nesting hole, thinking they were in a tree.

About thirty nestboxes erected by the British Trust for Ornithology-licenced bird ringers at Pierrepont have not been attacked so far, whereas those put up by CRT volunteers have been. The boxes are similar but the bird ringers’ boxes have been placed as a height of about 122 centimetres (four feet) off the ground, while the CRT boxes are a 60 centimetres or so (two feet) higher. It might be that the woodpeckers do not consider the bird ringers’ boxes to be high enough for safety.

Great spotted woodpeckers at Margaret Wood have been observed nesting at 6.1 metres (20 feet) or more above the ground and have not yet been tempted to take over a nestbox.

A nestbox designed specifically for great spotted woodpeckers — with a rotten birch log inside — has been erected on an oak tree at Pierrepont, at a height of about 9.15 metres (thirty feet). Will it attract them, or will it be squatted by squirrels?

A great spotted woodpecker ringed at the Countryside Restoration Trust's Pierrepont Farm in 2010.

A great spotted woodpecker ringed at Pierrepont Farm in 2010. (Photo © Joan Foster 2010)