How to… Build a Nest Box for a DSLR Camera

Have you seen those brilliant photos showing the inside of a blue tit’s nest, with young chicks reaching up to be fed by the entering parent? If that’s the shot you’re trying to emulate, there’s a good chance it was taken using the method I’ll describe below. It involves quite a degree of planning, but the results can be really stunning – allowing you a privileged and rarely seen view into the first few weeks of a young bird’s life.

Step 1. Decide on your target species:

Importantly, this must be a species that would naturally nest in tree holes, annestbox_guided ideally one that is already well used to choosing nest boxes as a breeding site. Here in the UK, species such as blue tits and great tits are good options. Once decided, you needto study the best nest box designs for that species. I’d thoroughly recommend looking through the BTO’s Nest Box guide, which can be downloaded for free here. This is a good resource for most common species.

Step 2. Choose your design:

You’ve now got two options. The easiest is to go for a classic nest box, built from sawn timber (recycled pallet wood is excellent). The second is to make a natural looking box, such that your final photo will look like a natural cavity nest, rather than an artificial box nest. Both options demonstrate a different final shot, but here I shall demonstrate the natural version.

Step 3. Choose your materials:

As I wanted a natural design, I needed a natural internal material. Bark works very well both as a structural wall, and to give a natural feel to the inside of the box. You can see in the image below how I’ve built up a cylindrical wall of bark to look like the inside of a natural hollow. This bark came from a fallen willow tree, but most bark peeling away from a large, dead old tree will do the trick.

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Step 4. Build your box:

Having built the rough shape from bark, it’s important to build a flat side – this will be where your camera lens sits. Cut a circular hole in this side that will accommodate the wide angle lens you plan to use. You will also need to add in your entrance hole (I’ve gone for 28mm – which will attract both great tits and blue tits). And finally, a light source. In this box, I am going to be using a light panel in the roof, so I’ve cut out a square in the lid:

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Top tips:

  • cover your light input and camera hole until one week after the chicks have hatched
  • cut your rear panel to perfectly fit your camera lens, to ensure no additional light gets in
  • use a remote trigger to fire your shutter
  • use field observations to ensure the birds are not disrupted by the presence of the camera. If they are; cease immediately.

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