Most homeowners and backyard birders love when a bird decides to make a nest in their yard or in one of their new birdhouses, since this will allow them to observe the parents taking care of their young, and they can watch closely as the fledglings grow and leave the nest at some point. But when do you clean out birdhouses? How do you know when a family has left the nest for the season? Once you’ve determined that the house is vacant, it’s important to clean it out in order to prevent the spread of disease and bacteria. Cleaning it out will also deter rodents from taking up residence inside.
How Long Should You Wait to Clean a Bird House?
Adding a birdhouse or two to your yard can be very exciting, especially if you have children and you’re eager to encourage their interest in backyard birding. With the right type of birdhouse and a great backyard setup that is very appealing to local wildlife, you’re guaranteed to have a nesting pair of birds set up shop in one of your birdhouses. But at the end of the season, there are some important steps you need to take that can help to reduce the risks of rodents, pests, insects, and parasites from taking over the birdhouse after the birds have left the nest.
If this is your first time having residents in your backyard birdhouse, then you may not know how long you should wait before you clean it out, or the signs that indicate that a family has left the house for the season. Cleaning out a birdhouse is a very important part of taking care of your backyard birds and ensuring they come back the next season.
Timing is Everything
If you love watching birds visit your yard throughout the day, then you probably already have a couple of birdhouses up and ready to go for the upcoming season. If a bird calls one of these houses their home, once they leave the nest you’ll want to ensure the house is cleaned out well and ready to go for the winter months, if you’re someone who wants to provide a nice roosting spot to help wintering birds stay warm and protected during inclement weather. Some birds will have several broods a season, which can make it difficult to determine when a bird has vacated the house for good. The right time to clean out a birdhouse will depend on the activity in your yard. Keep a close eye on the house and ensure you don’t note any birds coming or going for at least seven days before you decide to take it down and give it a good scrubbing.
If you’re still not sure whether the house is vacant, try gently tapping on the roof or the sides of the house and listen closely for any cheeps or responsive sounds. Next, take a peek inside of the house through a removable side panel or the roof to look for fledglings. If the birds are still in the house, replace the panel or roof and wait another seven days before you check the house again. This will give the birds plenty of time to pack up and go.
Bird House Options
If you’re searching for a good birdhouse for your yard, one that’s durable and easy to clean, then I recommend the Woodlink Wooden Bluebird House. This model is built tough and designed specifically to attract bluebirds, although other birds can also take advantage of this spacious house.
There are many birdhouse styles and types to choose from. If you’re not sure what type you should purchase for your yard, be sure to look online to learn which species of birds are commonly found in your neck of the woods and purchase a house that’s tailored to meet their needs, whether you want to attract cardinals, bluebirds, purple martins, wrens, or woodpeckers.
How to Clean a Bird House
If you’ve determined it’s safe to take the house down for a cleaning, then begin by gathering all of the supplies you’ll need to get the job done, including:
- Rubber gloves
- Chlorine bleach
- Screwdriver and hammer
If the house doesn’t have a removable roof, then I recommend disassembling it to make the cleaning process easier. Set the house on a flat surface that’s covered with paper towels or old newspaper which will make cleanup much easier. Make sure you take pictures of the birdhouse disassembly process or label each part, to make the process easier.
Begin by removing the eggshells and nest, scraping off any type of organic matter that’s stuck to the birdhouse itself. The more material you’re able to remove, the easier it’s going to be to sanitize the house.
Next use nine parts hot water and one part bleach and place it in a small container. Make sure you avoid getting any of the mixture on your clothing since it will bleach your clothes.
Scrub out the inside of the house using the cleaning solution and the toothbrush. Make sure you get any holes and the corners, which is usually where you’ll find more stuck on material. You can use a toothpick to clean out holes in the house, such as drainage holes or ventilation. At this time, you should also clean off the mounting hardware that’s used to hang the house, since this may have accumulated dirt, debris, or another type of organic matter. Rinse off the hardware and the house thoroughly, for several minutes, using clean water.
The birdhouse should be allowed to air dry in the sun. This will help to eliminate any remaining bleach solution residue, while also reducing the potential for bacteria or mold to grow on the wet surface.
Next, take a screwdriver or hammer and make any needed repairs. This will include taking care of chipped wood, protruding nails, or any loose hinges, all of which can be dangerous for birds who live in the house.
Once the house has had adequate time to dry, and after you’ve had time to inspect each of the parts for signs of wear and tear or damage, you’re ready to put it back together. Reassemble the house and store it in the garage for the season. You can also choose to rehang it for wintering birds who do not migrate for the season. To learn more, click here to read my article on do birds use birdhouses in the winter?
Removing an Old Nest
Remember, the right time to clean out a house will ultimately depend on your backyard birds and when they’re ready to leave the nest. The goal here is to avoid cleaning out the house too soon since this will cause you to accidentally chase off the roosting family. However, if you wait too long to clean it out you may miss the chance before a new family moves in. This is not ideal since this can lead to illness in birds due to the bacteria in the nest.
A new pair of nesting birds will not remove any of the old nesting material, and will usually just build over any existing material. So, if you don’t clean out the house, it can become filled to the brim with old and new nesting materials. This can cause the new nest to be placed too close to the entrance hole, which will put the fledglings at risk of being killed by a crafty predator who may be able to easily reach inside.
Do You Have to Clean Out a Birdhouse?
Whether or not you clean out the birdhouse is entirely up to you. When you make this decision, make sure you weigh the pros and cons and take into consideration the species that normally call your birdhouse home. Bluebirds actually prefer to inhabit houses that already have nesting material and will add more to the nest as they see fit. But many birders argue that keeping the house clean will help to cut down on parasites and infections.
A dirty birdhouse will not be attractive to all bird species. When dirty, these houses can harbor feather mites, insects, rodents, bacteria, and fungus. This can result in the spread of disease to vulnerable hatchlings and nesting birds. A clean house will reduce the chance of this happening, while also making the house more attractive to birds searching for an adequate nesting site. A cleaner house will also encourage birds to reuse the house in the future.
Sparrow-Proofing a Birdhouse
Sparrows can quickly and easily take over a birdhouse, especially models that are designed for larger species, such as bluebirds. While it’s not possible to get rid of all the sparrows in your yard, there are some things that you can do that can make your yard and your birdhouses unappealing to this invasive species. If you’re struggling with a sparrow problem and desperately trying to get the population under control and prevent these birds from taking over your backyard, then read my guide on how to keep sparrows out of birdhouses. You’ll find some helpful tips that can deter these birds from making pests out of themselves while encouraging more native species to visit your yard.
So, when do you clean out birdhouses? This should be done at the end of the summer, approximately one week after you’ve noted that there has been no bird activity and no visible signs of birds hanging around the house. If you plan on leaving the house up year-round, then the house should also be cleaned at the end of winter, in anticipation of nesting birds in search of a safe place to lay eggs. Remember, a clean house will encourage birds to come back year after year, while a dirty house can attract insects, pests, and rodents. Keeping a birdhouse neat and tidy is a very important part of backyard birding and a surefire way to ensure more birds visit your yard and call it home, every season.