Should birdhouses be cleaned out?

Should birdhouses be cleaned out? I hear you ask.

Well, that’s a great question.

And in fact, it’s not as easy to answer as yes or no.

At the start of the season, you set up your birdhouse so it was nice and welcoming for your backyard birds.

Then breeding season comes around.

You watch with joy as your feathered friends lay their eggs and raise their chicks.

Then the time comes for those little fledglings to spread their wings and take flight.

But, just like your kids packing up and leaving for college, you’ve now got an empty nest on your hands.

And you’re left wondering if you need to clean up the mess left behind.

I mean you want new tenants right?

And surely they won’t be happy with the abandoned mess of those that were there before them.

Well, it’s not quite that easy.

It might surprise you to learn that there is a debate in the bird-watching world as that whether you should be cleaning out your birdhouses.

So what it’s all about?

Well, this guide is going to take you through the reasons you should clean out your birdhouse.

But that’s not all. We’ll look at some reasons you shouldn’t clean your birdhouses?

That way you can make a great choice for your backyard birds.

Simple right?

Then let’s get to it.

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Should birdhouses be cleaned out?

4 Reasons you should clean your Birdhouse

1. Prevent Disease

Now, this is a big one.

The main reason you should clean out your birdhouse is to get rid of any disease. The previous bird tenant may have left some nasties behind.

We’re talking about ectoparasites like:

  • Mites
  • Fleas
  • Ticks

These guys are bad news for your bird visitors as they spread disease quickly.

The main diseases that can be spread in your birdhouse are:

  • Avian pox
  • Salmonellosis
  • Trichomoniasis

Removing old nesting material will remove the disease carriers. Then new birds to arrive will be at less risk of catching them.

2. Discourage Predators

Some birds, like bluebirds, are quite lazy and will simply build a new nest over the top of an old one.

Just like a teenager’s room that mess will simply pile up high if you don’t sort it out.

The problem with that the previous nest will act as height foundation for the new nest.

This means that the new nest will be higher in the box.

So what the issue?

When the nest is higher in the birdhouse it means the eggs are more exposed to the opening of a nest box.

And you guessed it.

Easy access to the inside of the box means free reign for predators to raid the eggs in the nest.

3. Attract New birds

Nest site completion can be quite fierce in some areas.

That means if all the natural nesting cavities are filled up, it can be harder to find a good place for birds to nest.

If a site has an old nest then a bird will likely look elsewhere. This is a natural way to stop them from catching those nasty diseases we were talking about.

If your nest box is clean it can be much more inviting to a bird who is struggling to find a good nesting site.

Leaving the nest of a previous tenant may mean the difference between your birdhouse being occupied over the breeding season or not.

4. Prevent Rodents

It’s important to remember that birdhouses aren’t just attractive to birds

You’ll find that they make handy nesting sites for small animals such as mice or rats.

You may think it’s a good idea to double up the use of your birdhouse for birds and animals.

But wait!

I’d strongly recommend you don’t encourage rodents in your birdhouses.

Why not?

Well rodents carry lots of diseases, which can be deadly to birds if it hangs around the birdhouse.

Not only that, but diseases such as Hantavirus and Lyme disease can be dangerous for your health too.

These viruses are in their urine. And let me tell you rodents are quite as house proud as birds.  They will urinate all over the box!

Having a birdhouse that has just been occupied by mice is likely to deter birds from nesting in your birdhouse.

You’ll find that birds start to scope out suitable nesting sites in winter. This is prime time for rodents to be nesting in your box.

And surprise! When a bird finds a big rat in your birdhouse they won’t be coming there to raise their chicks, that’s for sure.

Encouraging rodents to your birdhouse can put your nesting birds nest at risk of being raided in the summer months.

Cleaning out your birdhouses regularly over winter will deter mice and rats from nesting there.

Depending on where your birdhouse is mounted a baffle (like this one) is great. It won’t stop birds from exploring your birdhouse but will stop rodents from getting in.

4 reason you shouldn’t clean out your birdhouse

We’ve explored the reasons why you should clean out your birdhouse after the breeding season.

Now let’s look at reasons why you shouldn’t clean your birdhouses out.

1. Save energy

Most birds don’t tend to reuse old nests and like to build a new ones.

But wait. That doesn’t mean a clean nesting site will attract new birds.

Building a new nest means using lots of energy to source suitable materials as well as time to build it.

The solution?

You’ll find a lot of these birds will actually dismantle the old nest to build their new nest.

Birds use this technique to save them time and energy; which they need in heaps during the breeding season.

What’s more? Having a previous nest there can also be a social signal to birds that it’s a good place to nest and raise chicks.

2. Adaptive behaviors

So we know that some birds will simply build a new nest on top of an old nest.

But these are also some species that have adapted to tidy up old nests themselves.

It’s thought that this behavior is a natural way for birds to get rid of parasites and protect their future chicks.

Male wrens are partial to a good clean-up of nests between broods. That means they do all the hard work for you.

In additon to this they hav eother tricks up their sleeve.

Wrens are known to add spider ‘nests’ to their own nest. Once the spider eggs hatch they have plenty of mites to eat, which keeps the wren eggs healthy.

3. Trust Mother Nature

You have to remember your yard is a mini ecosystem.

That means that what happens with one species usually helps out another.

In this case, leaving old nests in your birdhouses can help out insects, like wasps. These insects can help to kill of a lot of the diseases causing parasites left behind in a nest.

It’s also important to remember that interfering with nature isn’t always beneficial.

It really just depends on your perspective.

Yes, parasites cause disease in birds. Which means only the strongest chicks will survive.

But diseases also help to keep the bird population under control.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing if you have a non-native species like house sparrows nesting in your birdhouse.

4.Helping wildlife

Birdhouses are not just good for birds.

We spoke about the importance of trying to discourage rodents from your birdhouse.

But what about the benefits to insects.

That’s right.

Insects love a birdhouse and an old nest includes:

  • Spiders
  • Woodlice
  • Beetles
  • Moths
  • Bees

These insects will enjoy protection from the weather and enjoy the warmth of a ready-made nest. Plus they won’t be disturbed like they would in your home.

Providing shelter for these insects they are likely to survive and create a rich food source for the birds when the spring comes around.

Final thoughts

Should birdhouses be cleaned out?

The benefits are:

  • helping to cut down on disease
  • creating better nesting sites
  • prevents predators and disease-carrying rodents.

But, Mother Nature isn’t one to mess with.

Not cleaning your birdhouse can help:

  •  birds build their nests quicker
  • learn adaptive behaviors
  • help to feed and protect insects.

Now it up to you to weigh up the pro and cons.

It will all depend on your situation.

For example, if you have a rodent problem at your feeders, cleaning out your birdhouse can help prevent them from nesting nearby.

Really, it’s down to whether you want to give nature a helping hand or whether you think it’s best for her to do her own thing.

Let me know in the comments below if you clean your birdhouse.

1 thought on “Should birdhouses be cleaned out?”

  1. I cleaned out my wren house. It had a well constructed nest on top of a base of small twigs. Afterward I became concerned that I should have left it and the wren’s would reuse the nest next year. Overall it seems that cleaning was a good option, but not necessary.


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