Our Wild Things columnist Eric Brown turns his spotlight on wildlife, considers the joy it can bring and some challenges it faces. This week he explains how you can help cure a storm-driven housing shortage among birds by supplying garden visitors with rent-free replacement accommodation and breeding opportunities.

SPRING is in the air and estate agents anticipate a sharp increase in business around Easter.

Birds and animals are also seeking homes as the urge to reproduce kicks in. Some early bird breeders will already be brooding eggs providing their nests survived storms Eunice and Franklin in February.

Those storms destroyed trees which provided nest holes for birds. But there’s still time to put up nestboxes for familiar garden birds and many more migrating here to breed.

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To do this there are two routes: construct your own box or buy one. Please don’t be tempted to purchase one of those abominations offered in many supermarkets, garages and garden centres. I have seen for sale a nestbox shaped like a thatched house perched on top of a bird feeding table. Any bird unwise enough to settle in this will waste vital time and energy trying to chase away other birds attracted to feed in its breeding territory. Other boxes available from such places often have the entrance hole too low, meaning predators can gain easy access and chicks leave the nest too early. Avoid these.

News Shopper: Choose the right box for the birds you want to attract. Photo: Donna ZimmerChoose the right box for the birds you want to attract. Photo: Donna Zimmer

Check out nestboxes available from reputable sources like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology or C J Wildlife. They have excellent websites not only listing boxes for sale, including those made of a stronger wood-concrete mix, but also giving instructions how to make wooden boxes.

First, decide which birds may nest in your garden. They must be regular visitors. Blue tits, great tits, robins, house sparrows and starlings are most likely to benefit, along with summer visitors like swifts and house martins but they have different requirements. For example, the two tits need different-sized nest holes, robins like open-fronted boxes and house sparrows nest communally in large boxes with several entrance holes.

Wild Things: Everything you need to know about gullsDo not be tempted to try and lure a rarity like pied flycatcher, common redstart or spotted flycatcher as they just don’t breed in the south London area. Once the box is fixed in a place sheltered from the sun’s hottest rays, you may need patience. My own garden nestbox has only been used once in 30 years!