Building Bird Boxes at the abbey
Welcome back to the Medieval Kitchen Garden Blog! Summer is rapidly on the approach (in between showers!) and we have been giving some thought to our feathered friends by building some amazing nest boxes for them to use this autumn. Our course was run by the eternally talented Jeff Loader who was assisted by Luke Loader, our Learning Assistant, both of whom were decked out in traditional Medieval Carpenters’ costume throughout the entire workshop!
Outside of our workshop there was a fantastic display of traditional medieval carpentry tools and equipment made by Jeff and Luke, which interestingly contained many items which would not be out of place in a modern day workshop! A workbench made from wood housed many diverse tools which are instantly recognisable, such as mallets, hammers and saws, and many that look equally fascinating but not quite so familiar. Throughout the day Jeff regaled us with many interesting facts about units of medieval measurement, tools and of the social history surrounding carpentry as a medieval profession.
Our Learners were quickly assigned to the task at hand and play commenced by way of our Health & Safety briefing and by picking out our planks of wood ready for cutting. At the front of the workshop was a board with all the dimensions of each part of our nest box in addition to being given a helpful booklet which contained full instructions and a plan of work, in addition to aftercare and things to consider to ensure a long tradition of returning birds.
The first task at hand was to measure, saw and cut the front pieces of the nest box and then to bore a hole in the centre of the front piece to allow our feathered friend access. The hole was bored by way of a very interesting hand drill, and the size of the hole bored was reflective of which type of birds the learners wished to encourage into nest in their boxes. Blue Tits need a smaller entrance hole to the nest box than its relative the Great Tit, which in turn needs a smaller diameter hole than the House Sparrow. A ‘ladder’ was scratched onto the inside of the nest box from the bottom of the box up to the entrance hole on the front piece to provide a surface to which the baby birds can cling onto in order to make their first flights when leaving the nest.
An angled roof, which provides an overhang that birds prefer, was created by way of plotting the pitch of the roof and bevelling the sides accordingly with a hand planer, which is far harder than it looks! All of our learners rose to the task beautifully producing crisp clean bevelled edges to set their roof upon. The front and back pieces were then both nailed and glued to the side pieces, using pre drilled pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting when driving nails into the soft wood. A base was then made by drilling a circular formation of holes to allow for air circulation and drainage when the nest box is occupied. The nails of the nest box were galvanised so that they did not corrode in the elements during the colder months, and they were also counter sunk to just below the surface of the wood and filled with wood filler, which provides a seamless finish.
The lid of the bird box was attached by way of a strip of rubber used as a hinge between the back piece and the roof lid, and was fixed by galvanised nails. Making the lid so easily accessible helps with the annual clear out of the nest boxes in autumn, and makes cleaning and clearing far easier. To ensure the safety of the occupants of the box, a small catch was fitted to secure the lid, which prevents the wind or predators from opening the lid.
The boxes were ready for finishing. They can be finished using linseed oil, or wax, or any commercial product that is low on VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) and is deemed as animal friendly. Tips and hints were supplied on getting our feathered friends to choose our boxes! Location is everything – so Jeff advised that the boxes were kindly fixed to trees (without the use of nails or screws but with wire and rubber) at a height of approximately 2 – 4 metres and facing a north to east direction. To maintain our bird boxes year after year, an annual emptying and scrubbing with a stiff brush in addition to cleaning the box with boiling water is advised. A fresh application of your chosen finish can then be applied before the box is rehung, leaving accommodation fresh, clean and comfortable for our feathered friends.
The learners worked really hard throughout the entire day and produced some very fine examples of nesting boxes which will provide some luxurious avian accommodation this autumn. Many new skills were learnt or brushed up upon and a fantastic day was enjoyed by all.
Please do check back to see the evolution of our Medieval Kitchen Garden as we plant the raised beds in our next exciting blog.
Added: 21st May 2017