Types Of Nesting Box For Garden Birds – A Buyer’s Guide

Are you looking to buy a bird nesting box for your garden? Maybe you have been given one as a gift. Do you even know the first thing about bird boxes, otherwise known as nesting boxes? In this post I am going to show you some of the different types of nesting boxes you can use in your garden, what to look out for and what to expect.

Garden bird nesting boxes come in many forms but generally in just two variations – with a small entrance hole or an open fronted entrance. The type of access is important because certain types of garden bird prefer one to the other. So, depending on the type of bird you want to attract, you will need to use a certain type of box. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Which Birds Will Use Nest Boxes?

When birds start looking for nest sites they are trying to find a safe place to roost through the winter and a place to raise their young. Many birds will choose locations in their natural environment to build their nest but if a suitable alternative provided by us, they are often only too happy to take advantage.

Garden birds, woodland birds and even bigger birds of prey make use of nesting boxes. This video shows a pair of Falcons raising their family in a very high up nesting box. Other large birds that use nesting boxes include owls and kestrels. Medium sized birds may include the great spotted woodpecker and smaller varieties of owl.

When it comes to garden birds though, we are more likely to have them use our boxes. Common garden birds that are known to occupy nesting boxes are: blue tits, great tits, sparrows, nuthatches and robins. There may be more but these are the most likely.

Which Type Of Nesting Box Should I Use?

In my other post – Garden Bird Nesting Boxes – How, Where & When To Use Them, I explain in more detail about how you should site a bird nesting box. The location, height and position of a nesting box is important. The other critical part of all this is the type of nesting box.

Avoid Novelties

Bird nesting boxes come in all sorts of size and shape, from rectangular to round and from basic to novelty. The first thing I would advise is to steer clear of the novelty nesting boxes. As nice and flamboyant as they look, they will probably cost you more, may be of inferior quality and are not likely to provide any additional benefit to the birds.

Choose Something Robust & Well Made

Instead, look for a well built, robust nesting box made from natural wood. The wooden construction will replicate a bird’s natural environment, as well as providing warmth and protection from the elements. Cheaper nesting boxes of inferior quality will be a risky choice.

One that I was given as a gift was a small, smartly painted box with a round hole on the front. It looked nice and was on the small size but about right for a blue tit. Having put it in a good location I checked back in a few days to see the base section had been blown out by the wind and was on the ground below. Had a nest been started it would have just fallen out the bottom of the box. Use a nesting box with a hinged top rather than a removable base, unless it can be secured well.

Choice Of Material

When buying a nesting box check the materials it has been made from. Hopefully it will be a good quality wood suitable for extended periods of outdoor use. However, the metal fixings on a bird box may eventually rust. This is not a huge issue but certainly one worthy of consideration.

Metal is a big no-no when it comes to nesting boxes. A bird box made from metal will attract the heat from the sun and the temperature inside will quickly rise to a level that will kill any young birds inside.

What Type Of Bird Are You Hoping To Attract?

Round Entrance Hole

The size and shape of nesting box will be a factor to consider, depending on the species of bird you are hoping will use your nesting box. Small garden birds, such as the blue tit will prefer to use a nesting box with a small entrance hole on the front.

When I first started to take an interest in bird boxes, I couldn’t believe any bird would fit through such a small hole. Having now watched them in action, they do it very well. For a guide on the best hole sizes, see below.

Open Fronted

The open front style of nesting box is the choice of robins, wrens and blackbirds among others. Because the front section is largely opened up, there are some interesting shapes to choose from. If you are hoping to use an open fronted nesting box, you will need an appropriate location.

It is normally the case that birds using this type of box prefer it to be within the cover of natural foliage. Having said this, though, there are examples where robins have been really creative; using the gaps in alloy wheels of cars, within the eaves of a front porch. It can be trial and error but trying to stick to the common advice is probably best.

What Is The Best Size Hole For A Birdhouse?

Which birds can or will use a nesting box largely depends on location and setting. One significant feature of a nesting box, which is going to make a big difference is hole size. For a bird to use a nesting box it needs to be able to get in it. This sounds obvious but bird box hole sizes are different and many people may not know this.

What Size Should The Hole Be In A Bird Box?

Below are the recommended hole sizes for a variety of garden birds you are likely to attract to your nesting box. As previously mentioned, the size of the entrance hole will offer a more suitable access to different species.

  • 25 mm – blue tits, coal tits
  • 28 mm – great tits and tree sparrows
  • 32 mm – nuthatches and house sparrows
  • 45 mm – starlings for starlings

Access To Open Fronted Nesting Boxes

When it comes to Robins and other types of bird that prefer a larger opening, an open fronted nesting box is the way to go. Usually a smaller box with an opening of 100 mm high is the robin’s choice. If you get spotted flycatchers in the area, they are happy with a smaller opening of around 60 mm. Wrens apparently like more space with a whopping 140 mm high entrance.


We know that many species of bird will make use of purpose made nesting boxes. They provide a warm and safe place place for nesting birds. When it comes to every day nesting boxes in our gardens the birds that are likely to show and interest are blue tits, great tits, sparrows, nuthatches and robins.

There are many different types of nesting boxes, from novelties to well made choices. There are nesting boxes with holes and nesting boxes with open fronts. My best advice is to avoid the novelty boxes and go for something well made, using good quality materials. It will last longer and will be more likely to attract a bird looking for a nesting site.

Nesting boxes are not all equal. Obviously the size box itself will suit different species of bird. The size of the entrance hole is important too; different birds need a suitable hole size to fit through.

To be honest, just put something up and hope for the best. If its any good the birds will find it.