George Kaye, our nest box specialist, has some last-of-the-season advice for all of us concerning bird house and nest box preparations for winter. Thanks George!
We need to help our birds as much as possible, and nothing is better than giving them a place to raise their young.
I hope your birdhouses are dirty, because that means the birds have used them. If you see a lot of bird poop on the bottom and sides of your birdhouse, this means the baby birds were actively hopping around the inside of the box, getting ready for their maiden flight.
The first step is to remove the old nest. Although some birds will build on top of an old nest, it is best to give them a chance to build a new one. The old nest probably is filthy and may have parasitic insects. Take out the nest and don’t breath in any dust coming from the box. Don’t deposit the nest close to your birdhouse, because this may clue a predator like a possum, racoon or snake that their is “food” in the box.
Take a brush (even an old toothbrush) and clean out all the nooks and crannies of the box. Some people recommend spraying a dilute solution of bleach to sanitize the box, followed by a water rinse. But this is not essential.
This gives me a chance to preach against boxes that can’t be opened to clean and check inside. I hope your box can be opened, preferably on the side. Many birdhouses sold at craft festivals are beautiful, but they are useless if they can’t be opened. If you have such a box, please replace it.
Now your box is ready to go. Start checking it next March, and check it more frequently starting next April.
Some birds may even huddle for warmth inside a birdhouse during the winter.
Keep an eye out for other creatures that may like your birdhouse as much as the birds!
Hornets, wasps and bees love birdhouses. Needless to say, don’t spray flying insect repellent into to box. I remove them with a “hit and run” method. I pick up a long branch and remove the insect nest, and step back quickly. I haven’t gotten stung so far.
Ants build their nests in boxes. This is my biggest headache. I carry a brush and brush out the ants and ant eggs. Then I brush off my hands and arms where the ants are biting me.
For me, it is fun to open a box, and find a mouse or flying squirrel in the birdhouses. Those flying squirrels have such big eyes! Usually, it takes more than one attempt to remove them and their nests. Birdhouses make perfect rodent homes. I hope you don’t find them or a snake in your birdhouse, but that does happen.
This brings up one more birdhouse chore. I can’t afford to put predator guards on all the boxes I maintain. I have found that a predator guard does not keep a determined snake, possum or racoon form getting at the birdhouse. One simple step you can take to keep them away is to cut back any tree branches or shrubbery close to the birdhouse. That way the predator cannot have a pathway to climb or drop down onto the box. And mount your birdhouse on a slippery metal pole like an electric conduit pipe, rather than on a tree or a fence post.
Please consider putting up more birdhouses. It’s good for you and the birds. For more information, google the North American Bluebird Society, or google “Maintaining Nestboxes.”