How and when to clean out a garden bird nest box
If you get a lovely sunny weekend in November, it’s a great time to get out into the garden and clean out your nest boxes. Bird Protection Law allows us to clear nests between 1st September and 31st January only. And if you do it now, then you provide yet another habitat because new birds may use the box to roost in over winter to stay dry and warm.
How do I clean out a nest box?
Firstly, don’t try to do it standing on a ladder! Get the box down from your wall, tree or fence post and place it somewhere you can get easy access to it – like your garden table.
You can watch our Ecologist, Chantal Brown, talk you through the process here, or keep reading our blog post below if you prefer.
Then open up the box. For most bird boxes that just requires a screwdriver and you should find two screws underneath the box or at the back or on the front. Undo these two screws and open it up.
Should I wear gloves to clear out a nest box?
Before you take the nest out, it’s a really good idea to pop on a pair of gloves. The old nest could have mites on it which might give you a bite if they are still in there.
Why clear out a nest box?
Every year garden birds in our country like to make their own nests from scratch and don’t like to nest in the material gathered by others or in their old nests from the year before.
They like to find their own new material and make their nest in the way they want it. So the best thing we can do is, once we know that the birds have definitely fledged and there’s no more chance of new birds nesting, then we should provide a really clean environment for next spring.
What might you find in your nest box?
Nests are made from whatever birds can find around your garden and the neighbouring area. That’s why it’s a good idea to leave out nesting material if you can during the spring. They especially like cat hair if you give your cat a good brush! As well as soft stuff like moss, grass and twigs.
Different species of birds will have different nesting preferences in terms of what they choose and how they make their nest. That’s why it’s really interesting to have a few different nest boxes in your garden. Then come the autumn who can compare the different sizes, shapes and make up of nest that they have made.
How to remove the nest
Try to pull the nest away in one piece. That way you will be able to see how the nest has been formed and the small depression where the birds have raised their young.
Children find this particularly intriguing, especially if they recognise things from their own garden inside. We found some tennis ball material in ours!
It’s a very good sign if the nest is dry and clean and doesn’t smell. That means your nest box worked well and your garden birds had healthy chicks.
How to clean the bird box
When the nest has been removed, it’s best to give the inside of the box a thorough clean. You could use an old toothbrush or small soft brush. Wildlife World also sells Hygiene Kits with specifically designed brushes for cleaning out nests, bird feeders and solitary bee houses.
If you do find mould or muck, or you’ve realised that birds didn’t nest in the box over the spring and instead you’ve found lots of spiders or bugs inside – then use diluted eco-friendly washing up liquid, together with very hot water
Once it’s clean and dry it’s ready for you to close up again; using the screwdriver to put the front, base or side back on nice and tightly.
The good thing about doing this in the autumn is that the box is then clean and ready to use as shelter over winter. If you choose to do it later in the winter though, that’s no problem as it means there was no chance of debris building up and it’s ready to go for spring.
Bird Protection Law permits the cleaning out of nests between 1 September and 31 January. Any dead eggs must be destroyed promptly and cannot be kept or sold. (Reference British Trust for Ornithology)