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When To Clean Out Bird Nest Boxes

July 1, 2022
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It’s a wonderful thing to put up one or more bird nest boxes around your garden, and in most cases, you will find a breeding pair has taken up residence in the box you have set up for them. However, as with most homes, you need to clean them out at some point, especially if you want your local wild birds to continue breeding in your garden. Knowing when to clean out bird nest boxes is essential to avoid harming any potential eggs or fledglings. Here’s how to clean out bird nest boxes and when the best time is to do so! 

Why Should You Clean Out Bird Nest Boxes?

a cleaned out bird nest box

It is essential to clean out bird boxes. This is because birds carry pests such as fleas, mites and various bird-related diseases that can be left behind in the bird’s nest box long after the birds and their young have left the nest. In addition, small mammals may take up temporary residence in these boxes from time to time, further increasing the risk of cross-contamination and may be very detrimental to some species of birds. It’s also worth noting that birds and small mammals tend to defecate whenever the urge is there, and this often means there may be faecal matter left behind in the bird box, harbouring bacteria and other pathogens. 

When To Clean Out Bird Nest Boxes

woman and child hanging bird nest box during when to clean out bird next boxes

Most bird experts will tell you that the best time to clean out bird nest boxes is during autumn, when birds are no longer using the box. However, it’s important to know when birds are mating and breeding so that you know when to clean out bird nest boxes. Generally speaking, from around September onwards is the best time to clean bird boxes but make sure you do it well before spring when the breeding season starts again.

Should I Remove An Old Nest from A Bird Box?[i]

You can and should remove an old nest from a bird box. However, it is imperative to leave the nest alone until the fledglings have left the nest are there is no indication that birds are still using the nest. However, remember that disturbing an active nest is illegal in many parts of the UK, so check the wildlife laws in your area to see when you can legally remove a nest. Usually, this is between September and January. Always check the nest first, as some birds may still be using the nest right through until the end of September and early October. 

How To Clean Out Bird Nest Boxes

Once you know the wildlife laws in your area and that any birds do not occupy the nest box, you can clean out the bird’s nest box. Birds can often be full of mites and other parasites, which can be left behind in the nest box long after the bird family has flown the coop. Bird hygiene is essential, and while most birds preen themselves and keep relatively clean, grooming usually means contaminated feathers can be left in the nest. While there are many products you can use to clean a bird nest box, none of these products must contain harsh chemicals.

Here’s how to clean out bird nest boxes in a few steps:

  1. If you can, remove the bird nest box from its perch, lift the lid, and remove the old nest.
  2. Next, clean the interior with boiling hot water to kill any remaining parasites and pathogens. Once you have done this, you should let the box dry completely. 
  3. This next step is open to debate with some bird lovers, stating that you should put fresh straw in the box, replace the lid and return the box to its place. The trouble is that this may attract small mammals who may see the bird nest box as a safe and warm place to hibernate for the winter. This means the bird nest box will no longer be clean and parasite free when it comes time for birds to start breeding again.
  4. If you’d rather keep your bird nest box clean, you can either close any openings to it, or store it in the garden shed over winter. Don’t forget to put it back in place well before spring.

Cleaning Out Bird Nest Boxes

Birds are extremely adept at finding suitable places to nest, but with humans encroaching in their spaces in the wild, they are losing some of their habitat. Adding one or more bird nest boxes to your garden will definitely help the bird population in your area and keeping it clean will ensure healthy fledglings year after year. Keeping your bird nest boxes clean will ensure the boxes last for years and keep your birds happy too. 


  [i] https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/nestboxes-for-small-birds/cleaning-nestboxes 

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1 comment

  1. Hi Gemma.

    I have a blue tit roosting in my box at the moment who has moved in and seems to have taken up permanent residency. As a result I can’t clean the box – I’ve called him Lionel Messie – you can guess why! Any suggestions?
    Best. David