Cleaning Bluebird Houses
|Quick Tips: as soon as the baby birds, or at a minimum at the end of the nesting season. Never reach into a nestbox to remove an old nest if you can not see clearly inside - use a tool (like a putty knfie.) Avoid inhaling dust/detritus (wear a face mask) and sanitize hands immediately after handling a nest. Dispose of the nest far away to avoid attracting predators.
WHY CLEAN A NESTBOX: Unlike House Wrens, Bluebirds will not typically clean out old nests by themselves. They may build a nest on top of another previously used nest, but this may promote disease and parasite infestation, and increase the likelihood that a predator will be able to reach in and nab eggs/nestlings that are closer to the entrance hole. The detritus can also attract fire ants, and accumulated feather dander can make the interior dusty, especially when older fledglings are exercising their wings. Also, most birds won't use a box filled to the top with House Wren sticks. (The presence of a used House Wren nest may actually encourage House Wrens to re-nest, which not all trail monitors consider desirable.) Cleaning out a nestbox after each use enables monitors to know whether a box is used again, and by what species.
WHEN TO CLEAN:First of all, be SURE it is not an active or new nest. NEVER remove active nests of native birds! That is illegal. Unused Nests: Some birds can build a nest very quickly. During active nesting season, I do NOT remove a clean nest even if it appears to be abandoned, as the bird may just be taking a break from building. Sometimes egg laying does not begin until weather or food supply improves. Removing an apparently unused nest prematurely may cause the birds to move elsewhere or lose precious time rebuilding. I have had completed nests vacant for weeks, and then suddenly eggs are laid. If the birds started or even completed a nest and then left it for some reason, or were killed, the nest material can be left in the box for the season. It may be used by other birds or maybe even the same birds who deposited it in the first place. At a minimum, clean at the end of nesting season (e.g., September), or right before it begins (e.g., February). In my opinion, you should remove used nests as soon as the young fledge (birds in the North begin another clutch an average of 17 days later, in the South 26 days.) I like to remove nests right after fledging to avoid the common mistake of removing a new nest. A used bluebird nest may be clean (little or no fecal material) and is often flattened (versus having a formed cup.) Failed Nesting: If nesting fails, bluebirds may try again in 1-7 days if there is sufficient time left in the nesting season. You can clean out a box to encourage another brood, but personally, I do NOT remove a bluebird nest after a failed nesting. If they want to try again in that box, having an existing nest can save them time. Other monitors feel removing a failed nest encourages another brood.
ABANDONED NESTS AND UNHATCHED EGGS: