Country diary: a nesting box, a broken window and a brooding robin | Environment

We inherited the old garden shed when we bought the house a quarter of a century ago. Over the door, someone had fixed an open-fronted nest box of the type thought suitable for a robin but, whether it was too exposed or the aspect was wrong, no birds took up the offer of accommodation.

Eventually, while repainting the shed, I took down the box and, for want of anywhere else to put it, left it on a high shelf just inside the door. That winter, the apple tree nearby lost a branch, breaking the shed window and adding another line to the list of jobs I would never get around to.

2000 - Country diary: a nesting box, a broken window and a brooding robin | Environment

A pair of robins got in through the shed’s broken window and raised this brood. Photograph: John Gilbey

The following spring, while easing the lawnmower out of its hibernation, I heard an unexpected sound. Turning slowly round, I was met with the attentive but apparently unconcerned gaze of a brooding robin, who had decided that the new location and accessibility made the nest box suddenly desirable.

I crept away as quietly as I could, but kept a close eye on the progress of our tenants. The sitting bird received regular deliveries of insects from its mate, and seldom left the nest before the eggs hatched.

Once the nestlings were heard, however, both parents kept up a constant shuttle during daylight to try to appease the growing chicks. I am pleased to say that all six youngsters fledged successfully, and spread out across the garden while their mottled feathers matured.

While trying to arrest the collapse of the shed this year, I realised that I was patching sections that I’d previously repaired, and a fatal cocktail of rot and gales forced the conclusion that a new shed was needed. The recently completed replacement, sturdily built from robust timbers, should last at least as long – especially since I’ve significantly pruned the apple tree.

For now, the nest box has been returned to an outdoor location, where it is sheltered but still accessible. Hopefully, another generation of robins will come across it in the spring and find that it meets their needs. If they don’t, I’ll need to find a more creative solution.