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Are Regular Season Cleanings Of Birdhouses Necessary?

In Michigan, there are over 350 different species of birds.
In Michigan, there are over 350 different species of birds.

After birds lay their eggs and their fledglings take off in the spring, you might have an empty bird box at this point in the summer. Should you clean out the nest they leave behind?

Whether or not to clean out nests from birdhouses at the end of summer is an ongoing debate.

Some people fear if they clean out a nest box, they might be disrupting a family of birds who might need it for future use.

While others claim you can lend a helping hand to birds by cleaning the birdhouse of any buildup that could cause parasites.

MSU Extension’s Elliot Nelson says there’s no clear-cut answer, but basic maintenance of nest boxes is necessary.

“There’s really a lot of research still to be done on nest boxes and cleaning them, and the science isn’t exactly totally clear yet. But there are some things you can do to make sure your nest boxes are safe and healthy for birds.”

This includes making sure the nest isn't built too close to the entrance hole, which poses the risk of predators getting into the hole.

Annual monitoring of the box for a buildup of mold or debris is also a good idea to help prevent mites or lice.

Nelson says predators and parasites are the two main threats when it comes to birds.

If there’s too much buildup of nesting material, ectoparasites like mites or lice could attack a group of nestlings the next time birds make a home in the house.

“Having a nest box, make sure that the hole is built to the right size, and that the ectoparasites aren’t gonna be able to build up in there too much, and then cleaning it occasionally removing the nest material to make sure that it doesn’t build up so tall or so dense with ectoparasites is another option.”

If there’s a lot of moisture or mold in the birdhouse, that’s a good sign to clean it out of all nesting materials to give it a deep clean.

When determining a good time for a cleaning, it’s best to wait until fall arrives in September. This is when all possible nestings are done, some species will have multiple clutches in the same summer.

To deep clean the nest box, bird enthusiasts should use a simple bleach solution or hot water.

McKoy's story is brought to you as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

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