Cleaning Bird Houses - Do It Right!

Tips for Cleaning Bird Houses

Old Nest
Remove all old nesting material when cleaning bird houses. Photo © gregwest98/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Birders who know how to clean a bird house are taking steps to protect their backyard bird families from pests and disease while making their bird houses even more attractive for new nesting birds. Like cleaning bird feeders, cleaning bird houses is essential for good backyard bird health and safety.

Why Clean Bird Houses

Just like a dirty, damaged bird feeder, a dirty bird house is less attractive to backyard birds.

Dirty bird houses can also harbor rodents, insects, feather mites, fungus and bacteria that can spread disease to nesting birds and vulnerable hatchlings. Cleaning a bird house minimizes these hazards and makes the home more attractive to nesting birds. A clean bird house encourages reuse with either the same bird family or additional birds looking for suitable nesting sites at different times of summer, which can bring even more bird families to the backyard.

When to Clean

Ideally, a bird house should be cleaned after the nesting brood has completely fledged and no longer returns to the nest. For many bird species, a single cleaning after the end of the breeding season is sufficient. In temperate regions where birds may raise multiple broods, however, the bird house can be cleaned between each new family to encourage more nesting. If you aren't sure whether the house is occupied or not, tap gently on the sides or roof and listen for responsive scufflings or cheeps, or peek inside the house carefully through the roof or moveable side to check for nestlings.

If the birds are still present, wait at least another week before checking again to give them plenty of time to vacate the home.

How to Clean a Bird House

To thoroughly and safely clean a bird house…

  1. Open the bird house or partially disassemble it if necessary for proper cleaning. Bird houses with swinging sides, hinged roofs or removable fronts are the easiest to clean quickly and thoroughly.
     
  1. Remove all old nesting material and scrape out any feces or clumped matter. This material should be disposed of in a plastic bag to prevent spreading any parasites it might harbor. Old nesting material could also be composted if desired.
     
  2. Scrub the house thoroughly with a weak bleach solution (one part chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water). Be sure to scrub all corners, the entrance hole and drainage and ventilation holes to remove all debris and contamination.
     
  3. Rinse the house well in clean water for several minutes to remove all traces of bleach or other chemicals so there will be no remaining harsh chemicals or fumes to affect birds.
     
  4. Dry the house thoroughly in full sun for at least several hours. This will break down any remaining chlorine and ensure there are no moist crevices for mold or mildew to grow.
     
  5. Inspect the house for loose hinges, protruding nails or screws, prominent splinters and other hazards that can injure adult or hatchling birds. Fix any issues to keep the house safe.
     
  1. Check that all ventilation and drainage holes are unobstructed. If needed, drill additional holes to provide extra ventilation or drainage to improve the house.
     
  2. Reassemble the house securely and check that all screws, hinges and joints are tight. If the house converts to a winter bird roost box, assemble it in that configuration after the breeding season ends so birds can use it for safe shelter.
     
  3. Store delicate gourds or clay bird houses for winter so they will last longer, or return wooden bird houses to their hooks or posts so they can be used as roost boxes for cold winter nights.

More Bird House Cleaning Tips

To ensure that your bird houses are as clean and safe as possible for your nesting or roosting backyard birds…

  • Buy bird houses with movable or hinged panels that are easier to clean without weakening the structure of the house.
  • Leave clean bird houses up for winter roosting and clean them again in early spring so they are ready for breeding birds.
  • Also clean the post or hook where the bird house is positioned to remove any lingering pests or bacteria from the area.

By cleaning a bird house properly, backyard birders provide a safe, happy home for their backyard birds. Clean houses will attract more nesting birds, and generation after generation of healthy birds can be raised in suitable bird houses.