Bird Nest Box Maintenance | 15 Easy Steps You Can Do Yourself

Bird Nest Box Maintenance

Installing birdhouses or nest boxes in your backyard is a great way to offer birds a place where they can build nests and raise their hatchlings. 

It’s difficult for many birds to find safe and secure places in the wild to build a nest, and providing them with artificial nesting cavities is a great way to help your feathered friends.

Autumn comes with vivid leaves and crisp air, and that’s when the nesting season of most birds comes to an end. But it’s critical to maintain your nest boxes so that other birds can use them in the next nesting season. 

Let’s discuss how to maintain and clean the nest boxes that your old feathered friends have vacated. This way, birds will use them again in the spring, and they’ll be free of pests and debris.

Is Maintaining and Cleaning A Nest Box Important?

The one-word answer to this question is yes. Old nests are messy, and they can have some harmful pathogens. If you don’t remove these old nests, the parasites such as fleas will grow happily until the next nesting season.

These parasites will then infest hatching chicks, leading to many diseases and even death in the worst cases. Generally, some hatchlings don’t survive, and some eggs also fail to hatch. It’s not uncommon and can happen even in the best and most comfortable nests.

Sometimes only one hatchling survives. There are several reasons why it happens, including cold weather, food shortage, predator attacks, and so on. 

That’s why old nests become contaminated, and removing them becomes critical to provide birds with a safe and clean place to build nests in the next nesting season.

Even if birds didn’t occupy it, annual nest box maintenance is a must. Who knows if a squirrel stashed nuts there, wasps built a nest inside, etc?

When Should You Clean And perform Nest Box maintenance?

Autumn arrives in late September, and that’s when the nesting season of most birds comes to an end. You can start cleaning your nest boxes in the first week of October. However, it’s important to ensure that birds leave the nest boxes you want to clean.

Sometimes there are some late nesters, and you don’t want to disturb them. Cleaning nests at this time will also help many stray birds who are looking for a warm and secure place.

In some places, it’s illegal to remove nests before the nesting season is over. Therefore, you should start this process when September ends.

How to Clean A Nest Box

nest box maintenance

Cleaning a nest box doesn’t have to be a difficult task. All you need to do is follow the right course of action to complete the process. You also need to have a strong stomach because you never know what you’ll find inside your nest box.

Consider following the step-by-step guide listed below to clean and maintain your nest box effectively and efficiently.

  1. Wear your personal protective equipment. Wear a facemask and protective gloves and grab the nest box you want to clean.
  2. Remove wasp nests if needed. Sometimes wasps take over abandoned nest boxes. If that’s the case, you’ll first need to remove the wasp nest from your nest box. Don’t do it yourself if you’re allergic to wasp stings. Instead, call professionals for the wasp nest removal.
  3. Remove debris. Open your nest box, remove all the old nesting materials, and place them in a trash bag.
  4. Take out the trash. Seal the trash bag and dispose of the material to ensure it doesn’t attract any predators.
  5. Scrub. Scrape the interior of your nest box by using a stiff brush.
  6. Unclog the ventilation and drainage holes if they are clogged with debris.
  7. Clean. Use boiling water to clean the nest box thoroughly and make sure that you remove any remaining parasites.
  8. Disinfect. Use an enzyme solution that comes with at least 10 percent bleach solution to disinfect the nest box. You can also make this solution at home by mixing 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of baking soda, and 3 cups of water. Alternatively, adding one cup of vinegar to one gallon of water will also do the job.
  9. Let it dry. Leave the nest box open (disassembled) for at least 24 hours after applying the disinfectant to dry out.
  10.  Reassemble. Once dry, you can start the reassembling process.
  11.  Optional- install a camera. If you want, you can also install a small camera in your nest box to watch the whole process of nesting, building, and raising hatchlings.
  12.  Prepare the box for winter birds. Place some fresh hay inside the nest box before closing door.
  13.  Reinstall. Install the nest box to a winter roost site to help stray birds.
  14.  Spring nest box maintenance. Remove your nest box in late winter to clean it and make it ready for the nesting season by removing the hay you added. This time you won’t need to deal with the old nest.
  15.  Ready to go! Once the nest box is dry, install it in a secure place and leave it for the birds to build a nest.

Important Notes

  • As mentioned, finding a dead chick or egg(s) that failed to hatch is not uncommon. Some birds lay even more than a dozen eggs, and they can bear such losses. You can remove such nests if you’re sure that the parents and healthy hatchlings have left.
  • Cleaning your nest boxes before winter is good because it helps many birds find a perfect spot for roosting during cold weather (source- Massachusetts Audubon).
  • Many bird species such as tit prefer a clean and tidy environment, and they’ll need to spend a lot of time and energy to clean old nesting materials. You can help them out by cleaning your nest boxes before winter.
  • It’s also important to install predator guards to ensure the safety of birds.

How Many Nest Boxes are Enough?

The number of nest boxes you should install in your backyard directly depends upon the number of birds your backyard attracts.

According to general rules of thumb, you can have 4 small nest boxes spread over one acre. On the other hand, if you have a small, suburban yard, you can have 1- 3 nest boxes in different locations.

With good nest boxes, you may even get a chance to invite birds of prey into your nest boxes.