Cleaning birdhouses could backfire but basic maintenance needed

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By McKOY SCRIBNER
Capital News Service

LANSING — In Michigan, there are over 350 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. Should you clean out the nest they leave behind?

Whether 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.

Meanwhile, 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 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 a nest isn’t built too close to the entrance hole, which poses the risk of predators getting in.

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 to birds.

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

Be sure that a birdhouse hole is the right size and that ectoparasites “aren’t going to be able to build up in there too much,” Nelson said, then clean it occasionally by removing the nest material.

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

When determining a good time for a cleaning, Some species have multiple clutches in the same summer, so it’s best to wait until fall arrives in September after all possible nestings are done, he said.

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