When Do Birds Nest (United Kingdom)

When Do Birds Nest? (United Kingdom)

The arrival of Spring in the UK coincides with the UK wild birds nesting period, having said that, there are many birds that start nesting earlier than Spring in the United Kingdom. Plus we have wood pigeons here that nest all year round. 

According to Natural England the UK bird nesting season starts in February and runs through to August, with the busiest period from March to July. They also say that some birds start earlier than February and they also say others nest all year round.

Climate Change 

The British Trust for Ornithology  reports that the nesting season is changing due to climate change, they say the nesting season is now starting 30 days earlier than it did in the 1960s. This wouldn’t be a problem if the rest of nature followed suit, but many of the plants and insects that wild birds feed on do not emerge at that same time -which is 30 days later than the birds are starting to nest.

 If the birds start their nesting before the emergence of their food there will of course be a problem. Thankfully due to climatic conditions the plants and insects almost started to emerge a month earlier too so the problem was averted. We just have to hope that this synchronisation continues.

Which Birds Start Nesting First In The UK?

Generally, the first birds nesting in the UK are the crossbills. A bird found mainly in Scotland, the crossbill regularly nests in January, which given they are in the North of the British Isles would seem like completely the wrong time to be raising chicks. It seems to work well for them though so obviously their food sources are to be found in Scotland in January too.

In February long-tailed tits, long-eared owls, herons and ravens start to nest too. Followed in March by robins and blackbirds being the first types of common garden birds to start nesting.

Bird Nest with Eggs

Why Do Birds Nest So Early?

Most birds’ whole lives are governed by food, take the crossbill for example, they feed on the seeds of conifer trees, which, using their specially adapted beaks they can easily extract from pine cones. The seeds are readily available in January so that’s when they start to nest.

Blackbirds feed mainly on worms which are far easier to extract from the softer, damp Winter soil than hard baked Summer or even Spring ground.

Owls feed their offspring on small mammals, having nested early they can take advantage of the shorter grass and fewer plants in the undergrowth to catch their prey easily. This allows them to comfortably feed both themselves and their chicks without expending too much energy on the hunt for food.

Pigeons find it easy to find food as they eat almost anything and are therefore capable of nesting all year round.

The nest of the long-tailed tit is so elaborate that it takes ages to build so even though nest building starts in February, it’s usually April before they lay their first eggs. Other birds including the grey heron don’t need to build a nest, they just repair last year’s nest. They need to get a head start on other birds though. Grey heron chicks take around 8 weeks to fledge so they need the early start or there wouldn’t be enough comfortable weather to teach the young how and where to hunt.

Other birds that stay with the same partner all of their lives, like rooks, don’t have to take time finding a mate, so they can start their nesting in February.

Bird Nesting Times UK

MonthsStarts Nesting 
JanuaryPigeons, Crossbills
FebruaryPigeons,  Long-Tailed Tits, Long-Eared Owls, Herons, Ravens, Tawny Owls, Blackbirds, Chiffchaffs, Great Tits, Nuthatches, Kingfishers, Crested Grebes
MarchPigeons, Robins, Rooks, Crows,Mistle thrushes,Wrens, Swallows, Song Thrushes, Peregrine Falcons. Ducks, Coots, Buzzards, Gulls, Guillemots, Oystercatchers
AprilPigeons, House Martins, Dunnocks, Starlings, Chaffinches, Sparrows, Green Finches, Gold Finches, Siskins, Wagtails, Pipits, Ospreys, Woodpeckers, Swans, Ducks, Yellow Hammers, Harriers, Terns, Gulls, Oystercatchers
MayPigeons, Swifts, Kestrels, Ducks, Yellow Hammers, Harriers, Gulls, Puffins
JunePigeons. Ducks, Yellow Hammers, Puffins
JulyPigeons, Ducks, Yellow Hammers
AugustPigeons, Yellow Hammers

Experienced Birds Can Produce More Broods

Different types of birds start nesting at different times of the year, but even within the same species, older birds will start nesting sooner than younger birds. These older, more experienced birds, will take less time finding nesting sites, materials and finding a mate. As they start earlier, these older birds have enough time to raise at least two, or even three broods in one season.

Which Birds Start Nesting The Latest?

There are two groups of birds that tend to nest later than the rest of the birds that nest in the UK. They are seed eaters like finches who hold back on their nesting activities until they can be sure of a decent supply of food for their young. 

The other group are the migratory birds that don’t arrive until April or May and start nesting almost straight away. Birds like swallows, swifts and martins.

What’s The Best Way To Help Nesting Birds?

The very best way to help nesting birds is to leave them alone. It is a criminal offence in the UK to knowingly damage or destroy  an occupied bird’s nest. Occupied doesn’t necessarily mean with eggs or chicks in either, if you disturb a nest that’s being built, that counts as occupied. During nesting season you should:

  • Avoid Construction Work
    This can be difficult as during the nesting season the weather is most suitable for building works. But birds tend to nest in man-made structures, so if you can leave building works until Autumn it will be helpful to the birds.
  • Avoid Cutting Back Trees And Hedges
    It’s best to not cut back trees and bushes until Winter to avoid causing diseases and also cutting too much from a tree in Summertime can actually kill it too. By leaving the pruning until later in the year any birds nesting in your trees or bushes will not be disturbed.
  • Keep Away From Suspected Nest Sites
    If there are any areas of your garden where there seems to be an unusually large amount of bird activity, it’s likely to be a potential nest site. Avoid this area as much as you can to allow the nesting birds time to raise their young.
  • Take Care Strimming Under Bushes
    There are many birds that nest under bushes and even in long grasses so take care before getting the strimmer out.
  • Provide Food And Water
    Birds expend a lot of energy building their nests and protecting their territory, plus raising their young so by providing them with food and water you will be saving them energy and helping them to raise their young.
Bird Nest

When Do Birds Stop Nesting?

Most garden birds in the UK are usually finished raising their last brood by the end of August we say usually because in mild Autumns birds can go on to raise another brood. This will mean it will be late October before birds have stopped nesting.

Wood Pigeons

Wood pigeons can breed all through the year so in effect they never stop nesting, but pigeons aside, most other birds are finished by October at the latest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What time of year do birds stop nesting?

The official bird nesting season is between February to August, but many birds don’t finish nesting until October.

Is it illegal to disturb nesting birds in the UK?

It is illegal to knowingly disturb nesting birds in the UK under the wildlife and countryside act 1981.

Can you destroy a pigeon nest in the UK?

You cannot destroy a pigeon’s nest in the UK; it is covered by the wildlife and countryside act 1981.