Bird nest boxes are fun. You place them in the perfect spot, find the best ways to keep cats away and watch your winged neighbours make their homes inside and raise their families. When they are done, you are left behind with a dirty, sticky bird box.
At this time, you are also left wondering: Should I do something about the mess in the nest boxes? Is it necessary, or will the birds take care of it? If I have to clean out the birdhouse anyway, when is the right time to do it? You will find the answers to these questions, and a lot more, in this article. Keep reading!
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Is it necessary?
Some of you might be thinking – Is it necessary to clean a bird’s nesting box? Yes, it is necessary if you want your birdhouse to be attractive to garden birds. Cleaning the nest will make the box more inviting for the next spring’s tenants and reduce the incidence of parasites, pests, diseases, etc.
Dirt and unclean boxes harbour bacteria, fungus, feather mites, insects, rodents, etc. If you let the nest box stay as it is, you will be providing a safe haven to all of them.
Come spring, they will spread disease to the nesting birds as well as the vulnerable hatchlings. If you clean the birdhouse, you will reduce and minimize these hazards. Plus, a few eggs don’t hatch, and some nestlings don’t make it, even in the best of nests. You have to clean these as well if you want the nest box to house beautiful, chirping birds next spring!
When is the right time to do it?
Now that you know that you have to clean birdhouses annually, a few of you might wonder when the right time to clean out bird nesting boxes is. Well, you have to deep clean the bird boxes a few times a year – before and after the breeding season.
This generally means in early March and in late September. Ideally, you should clean the birdhouse after the nesting brood has fledged and doesn’t return to the nest anymore. Several bird species only raise a single brood every nesting season, but in few areas – such as in the temperate regions – some small birds raise multiple broods.
This means that you will have to clean the bird boxes between each new family in order to encourage nesting. If there are some unhatched eggs in the box, you should remove them as well.
However, remember that in the UK, it is only legal to dispose of the eggs between the months of September and January.
How to clean your next box the right way
By now, all of us know that the hygiene of nest boxes is very important. Cleaning your nesting box isn’t hard. All you need is a water kettle, some screwdrivers, a few scrubbing sponges, and possibly a strong stomach – you don’t know what you might find in there! Follow our step-by-step guide to clean the nest box the right way.
1. Take the nest box down
Usually, these houses are placed at higher locations such as up a tree or on a roof. Therefore, it is a good idea to take the box down to make it safer to clean it thoroughly. Standing on a telescopic ladder and cleaning the box with boiling water doesn’t sound very safe now, does it?
2. Remove everything from inside
Open the nest box completely or partially disassemble it for proper cleaning. Nesting boxes with removable fronts, hinged roofs, and swinging sides are the easiest to clean thoroughly and quickly.
We recommend that you properly dispose of all the clumped bird food, old nesting material such as faeces etc., in a plastic bag to keep the parasites from spreading. There would be remnants of the old nest.
Take it out and dispose of the old nest in the compost. If you don’t have compost, you can use the garden waste bin. After all, you are cleaning the box outdoors since there are parasites, fleas, ticks, lice, etc. in it.
When you are taking things out of the box, make sure you wear gloves and a protective mask. It is very easy for you to contract diseases from the different species of birds simply by breathing in the dried bird poop as well as from physical contact.
There will be a few unhatched eggs in the nesting box as well. It is sad, but that is the way nature works. Before removing them, make sure the nest box is no longer in use.
3. Clean out nest boxes
Did you think your kettle is good only for making your tea? Once you have removed everything, it is time to wash it with boiling water thoroughly. The water will kill off the remaining parasites, bacteria, etc. There is no need to use soap or any other detergent.
Make a weak bleach solution with nine parts water and one part chlorine bleach. Make sure that you thoroughly scrub all the corners, the ventilation holes, the drainage and the entrance hole to get rid of all the debris and contaminants.
We recommend that you don’t use any flea powders, insecticides, or pesticides as they can be harmful to birds. Give the insides a light scrub using a stiff brush to remove any stubborn debris. Rinse the house with clean water to remove the traces of the bleach completely.
Let your nest dry completely before putting it back. Place the nesting box in direct sunlight for several hours to ensure that there is no moisture, which will encourage moss or mildew. Make sure there are no protruding screws or nails, prominent splinters, loose hinges, nuthatches, etc., that can harm adult birds or hatchlings.
If you find any issues, fix them. Also, ensure that all drainage and ventilation holes are unobstructed. You can drill extra holes to provide additional drainage or ventilation as well. Reassemble the house carefully.
4. Place nesting material
Before you put it back, it would be helpful to put some moss, dry leaves, or clean wood shavings inside. This is not necessary, but it will provide some bedding material for the new nest that the wild birds who choose to roost in your bird box. You can install a nest box camera if you want to keep an eye on the young birds as well.
Extra cleaning tips
Want a few additional cleaning tips to make sure your birdhomes are as safe and clean as possible for your roosting or nesting backyard birds? Here are a couple of helpful tips!
- Buy an open-fronted nest box with hinged or movable panels that you can clean easily without having to take the birdhome apart every time you clean it.
- Clean the hook or the post where you hang the birdhome as well to remove any lingering bacteria, pests, etc., from the entire nest site. If you have birdbaths and bird feeders, clean them thoroughly as well to attract house sparrows, house martins, blue tits, woodpeckers, starlings, and plenty of other birds.
- Check whether the birdhome is occupied or not. You should gently tap the roof or the sides and see if you hear any responsive cheeps or scuffling sounds. Peek inside the nest box carefully and check for birds. If the nestlings are still present, you should wait for another week and then check again.
When your backyard birds depart from the nest boxes, it is indeed a wistful moment. If you have bird nest boxes and want your bird pals to keep coming back, you have to ensure the boxes are up to their standards. Hopefully, this article has taught you the ins and outs of nest boxes – when to clean them, how to clean them, and a few extra cleaning tips to keep the birdhouse spick and span.
Happy cleaning, folks!