Cleaning out bird boxes

Posted: Monday 12 November 2012
by Adam Pasco

Old nesting material can harbour diseases, pests and parasites, so remove all the debris and thoroughly sterilise the inside of the box with boiling water.

Adam Pasco cleaning out a nest box with boiling water

Watching blue tits hopping in and out of one of my nest boxes at the weekend, I was reminded of another important job for this month. I need to open all the boxes around my garden and clear out the old nesting material.

I know that one of my boxes was used by blue tits last summer. It’s high up on the trunk of my silver birch, but positioned so I can see it clearly from a distance. Both the frequent comings and goings of the adults, and the audible chirping of the chicks, gave me a great feeling of satisfaction. I'm always keen to attract wildlife, and I'm pleased that this time it worked. 

Old nesting material can harbour diseases, pests and parasites, which can carry over from one season to the next if it's not removed. So I need to get the ladder out and take down my home-made box. Then it's an easy job - simply remove all the nesting debris and thoroughly sterilise the inside of the box with boiling water. After leaving it to dry out, put it back in position.

When buying or making a nest box, make sure it can be opened and cleaned. I’ve seen some for sale that would have to be broken open to empty. Avoid these and choose ones that either unscrew or have a hinged lid or removable panel to gain access.

I was thrilled to find that a new nest box fixed to my pergola arch was used last year. Although I never spotted any birds visiting it, the location has clearly been successful. With honeysuckle and golden hop covering the arch, the box gets nicely camouflaged during summer, which is possibly why I didn’t notice its new residents. The nest inside looks quite small, so I suspect it was made by a wren. Which other small birds use boxes I wonder?

People often ask me what they can do to attract birds into their garden - well, providing food and water is a great starting point. When choosing new plants, bear wildlife in mind and look for those that will provide safe shelter and perching places. In addition, put up nest boxes wherever you have a suitable position - reasonably high up and out of direct, scorching sun.

With the cleaning job done, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that blue tits will return and nest next summer.

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smflyman 22/11/2012 at 17:38

Cleaned out our 2 boxes just now. Revealed the tragedy of the sodden Spring and early Summer. The remains of a Blue Tit brood in one and the remains of a Great Tit brood in the other. Not enough caterpillars to keep them alive - the different stages of development at which the chicks died suggesting lack of food and gradual starvation.
What a miserable job - resolved to feed mealworms from first hatching if weather bad next year. IF???????