do birds clean out bird houses

What do you do with old nests in birdhouses and nest boxes? Will the birds clean them out after nesting season? Will the birds reuse them? How do you know that the nest is old and no longer in use? Let’s find out.

Should You Clean Out Your Birdhouse or Nest Box?

do birds clean out bird houses

Cavity-nesting birds utilize birdhouses and nest boxes in the spring, when most birds nest. Most young birds have fledged by the end of the nesting season, and many have given up on their old nests. Whether it’s late in the season or the following year, keeping your birdhouses and nest boxes clean is crucial to drawing in new nesting birds. Furthermore, allowing abandoned bird nests to accumulate in your birdhouses and nest boxes can lead to the formation of bacteria and parasites that could harm birds and their young. It is best to clear out old nests as soon as you realize they are no longer in use because old nesting material is also a prime location for small rodents and vermin.

Where Birds Come to Life

do birds clean out bird houses

House Wren Readying The Nest

Male House Wrens remove old nesting material between clutches.

Researchers in Illinois removed old nesting material from some nest boxes that they knew successfully reared fledglings in the previous breeding season in order to assess the effectiveness of human intervention (Pacejka and Thompson, 1996). To find out if there was a noticeable difference, the researchers counted the mites in the boxes that were left for the House Wrens to clean. They discovered that there was no discernible difference, so mites will persist in your nest box no matter who or what cleans it out.

By Anita Tendler, Cornell Class of 2019

We make sure our nest boxes are prepared for their future occupants before the breeding season begins. We observe the naked hatchlings grow into fully-feathered fledglings as the season goes on. The question of what to do with old nests arises because our nest boxes are abandoned after the breeding season, leaving behind nesting material.