As the frosty veneer of winter melts away and the earth mellows for spring, you may notice little flurries of activity around your garden. Perhaps a robin is collecting leaves, or a song thrush is searching for a suitable place to settle.

A small number of brave garden birds are already making preparations for their young, and some may even have started laying their eggs, flying in the face of their species’ normal nesting patterns. Early nesting is a risky move, but every year a daring few throw caution to the wind and get started well ahead of time.

So, why take such a risk? Because the earlier that birds start to breed, the more young they can produce in a season, meaning they can spread their genes far and wide. Only the oldest and wisest birds attempt this tactic, as they have the knowledge and experience to see them through the challenges it brings (last year’s hatchlings still have much to learn).

Some species, however, nest early in the year as a matter of course. Rooks and carrion crows, for example, have eggs in the nest by mid-March. One reason for this is that the early bird really does catch the worm; it is much easier to find earth worms around March when the soil is damp than later in the year when the ground warms and dries. Mistle thrushes adopt a similar strategy, and an added benefit for them is that predatory birds such as jays have not yet begun searching for eggs and young birds.

Long-tailed tits are also early starters. Although they are not yet laying their eggs, their breeding season is well under way. It is essential that they get an early start, as long-tailed tits are tasked with building what is perhaps the most labour intensive nest in Britain.

These tiny, industrious birds (sometimes called ‘flying teaspoons’ on account of their long tails and small, round bodies) create soft domes from thousands of pieces of moss, which they glue together with strands of sticky cobweb. Lichen fragments are sprinkled on to create a protective camouflage, and the nest is lined with feathers for warmth. It takes around three weeks to build, but the end result is a comfortable, cosy home - the perfect place to start a family.

The demands of building a nest, laying eggs and rearing young are enormous, and a bird must be at peak physical condition to succeed. You can give local birds a helping hand by providing them with protein-rich food such as dried mealworms.