If you have a bird house in your yard, you may be wondering whether you should clean it out each year. After all, cavity-nesting birds typically come back to the same nesting locations year after year. Chances are, the nest is in a state of disrepair after raising a brood or two the previous year.
Some varieties of birds are much more fastidious than others. For example, both hummingbirds and house finches tend to have very dirty nests. When the babies in the nest need to defecate, they wriggle their bottoms up toward the edge of the nest to do their business—and that is where the poop stays. After a month or two of nesting activity, the nest is unsightly and unsanitary.
Other bird species maintain very clean nests, as their young have a different behavior when they eliminate. Their poop is enclosed in a membrane referred to as a fecal sack. Each time a new fecal sack appears in the nest, one of the parents picks up the sack with its beak and carries it away from the nest to dispose of it. This behavior results in a nest that is neat and tidy right up until the time the baby birds fledge from the nest.
Then there is the issue of parasites in the nest. Adults sitting on the nest frequently act as an unsuspecting host for mites or ticks which can move from the adults to the babies. The life cycle for these parasites includes an egg-laying stage where they lay their eggs in the nest which will hatch the following year. When the parasites hatch out, they can affect the baby birds in the nest.
For all of the above-listed reasons, it is a good idea to clean out man-made bird houses. Birds in nature that do not use a man-made nesting box frequently excavate a new nesting cavity in the trunk of a tree each year, which prevents issues such as unsanitary conditions or parasites.
If you have put nesting boxes in your yard, I would recommend cleaning them out annually. Good quality nesting boxes should have a latch or a mechanism where you can open either the lid or one of the sides and remove the previous year’s nest.
What time of year should this be done? In my opinion, the best time to clean out nesting boxes is late winter before birds begin nesting activity in the spring. This way the birds that roost in the bird houses in winter will have the benefit of all of the nesting material in the box during the cold winter months. Cleaning nesting boxes out in the fall would deprive the birds of the insulation the nesting material provides when the birds hunker down to roost inside bird houses each night. FBN
By Eric Moore
Eric Moore is a life-long birder and is owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird and nature gift store nest to Michael’s in the Sprouts shopping center in Varsity Plaza in Flagstaff. Contact us with your questions at 928-774-1110, jaysbirdbarn.com or find us on Facebook.