Thoughts on Nesting Boxes – Ancient and Modern

As I go back a long way – too long in fact, I am recalling my early experiences with nest boxes up to the present day. I began breeding my first birds in November 1945. Getting a First with a grey green in a small show in East Molesey (Surrey, UK) with my family present, hooked me completely into the hobby – permanently!

1950s

In those days, nest box designs were the “leftovers” from pre-second world war thinking. They were designed to be placed inside a cage and hooked on to the rear facing cage wall with the nest hole facing the light. Other “leftovers” were like minature desks, where the parents entered via a hole on the top and squeezed down vertically. Watching them emerge was always good for a smile and a laugh, as can be imagined.

My great friend Jim Moffat used these and even up to his passing in the last decade, still had a few pairs using this box design. Old habits die hard!

It was not long before I realised that breeders were, like myself, having many problems, particularly when trying to retrieve the box for inspection, unhooking it, then seeing the hen, or the pair, dashing around and trying not to drop the box with one hand. Needless to say, at best, the eggs were scattered all over the place and many times damaged. The final irritation was when the fancier entered his birdroom, all the hens would come off the eggs to have a look at him. Lots of faces would appear to see the newcomer. This could not continue, as far as I was concerned. So my thinking cap went on.

Nest Box Design Changes

With hindsight, it is easy to look at today’s designs and accept what we have, but back then we were stuck with what we had. I realised that a box had to have the following changes listed below, to avoid the above disasters, but with the added sound reasoning required which would suit the breeding birds, before such a change was made.

So I addressed the following:

  • 1 – Overcome the danger of dropping the box.
  • 2 – Overcome the problem of massive disturbance and smashed eggs.
  • 3 – Overcome the hens leaving their eggs when you entered the aviary.
  • 4 – Overcome unhooking the box with the adult birds inside.
  • 5 – Overcome the chicks dropping out too soon and either dying from cold before you got home or similarly overnight.

Binks double boxesI started with items three and four! Build a test nesting box which could be placed on the outside of the cage, ideally on the front with the entrance hole facing away from the light. This, I hoped, would work.

In the inside I had the usual concave base. This box was up for a full season and when empty a new pair introduced. The result? A massive improvement with more chicks in that box than anywhere else!

I had 20 cages at that time. Still thinking about it. I could see that hooking on this box was stupid. Fine for taking over to the bench to inspect, but the parents were difficult to dislodge and if you held your hand under the box, it was cold. I wanted it warm! In fact doubly warm and that gave me another idea.

Why not have a double box, one inside the other with the outer box bolted to the cage? So, I scrapped that first test and re-designed again. The result? Even better! Steadiness with the parents, box solid with no movement on the cage front and with a round perch sticking out under the nest hole protruding into the cage for perching.

The last was also a developing problem as I found that a round perch became slippery with use, so a square perch, as with the major perches in all cages, was fitted. Finally, I had forgotten about the chicks dropping out too early. The new test box was the same as previously in depth from the base of the entrance hole to the concave. Back to the drawing board and try an 8 inch (20 cm) drop. Certainly better and by this time various manufacturers were taking notice and marketing, “The Binks Type Double Nest Box”.

That snowballed and a few years later everyone had them. Then the Binks name vanished – hardly surprising and understandable, but the hobby was breeding bigger birds and was the better for it.

Darker is Better

In 2000, a visit to Jim Laurie in Scotland made me think yet again. He was a breeder who had very thick walled wooden boxes some 9 inches (23 cm) high outside measurement but only a 5 inch (13 cm) square concave in the base. Breeding was fantastic as he had coupled the feeding to my diet and was breeding better results than I was. He was, because of the thickness of the box walls, spraying the boxes every night very heavily. Naturally I was very interested. Could my 8 inch (20 cm) boxes be still too shallow? Time to test again! This time up to 11 inch (28 cm) height (outside measurement), but more of that later.

Binks nest box inner boxJim Laurie had a great knack with budgerigars, as most Scottish fanciers will attest to. With his deep boxes and with five chicks in most of them, they were crammed into the boxes – vertically when the parents were in there! And they were big chicks that you could hardly get your hands round. However, they could not reach the nest hole easily until nearly four and a half weeks of age and that had the benefit of holding back the hens from laying too soon and having those eggs scattered and soiled in the process.

My only reservation was the 5 inch (14 cm) square base. I felt it could be enlarged to the standard 8 inch (20cm) x 5inch (14 cm) size, made 11 inches (28 cm) deep and a small inside stepping block under the nest hole glued in – mainly to keep the eggs restricted into the resultant smaller area in the concave. Remember, the darker the box inside, the better the hens sit and incubate. That leads to more chicks on the perch at 6 weeks of age.

I did this and now have 56 boxes with all these factors incorportated. The result? I breed budgerigars reasonably easily given full attention to other well understood essential factors. Boxes today are a far reach from the very early fanciers’ techniques. They started with a coconut shell!

Note: This article is more fully discussed in “The Challenge” book which is to be recommended as an essential addition to your library. Other successful designs are also discussed.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. Dean says:

    Where can I purchase this type of nest box from?

    Dean, UK

  2. Gerald S Binks says:

    Hi Dean,

    You can buy the 11 inch deep “Binks-Type Double Nest Box” from Thomas Cages in the UK.

    They can be contacted on +44 (0)1639 830329.

    The Thomas Cages website is located here: http://www.thomascages.co.uk

    Regards,
    Gerald

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