It’s that time of year again when we clean out the nest boxes that line our natural trails. You may wonder why it’s so important that we do this. After all, aren’t wild animals independent? Do they really need our help?
Yes, and for a whole variety of reasons.
The first one is because Blue Birds and many other cavity nesters would love to nest in natural cavities found in trees. When the birds found a cavity in a tree, they just moved right in. Their beaks are not designed to build their own cavity or nesting site, so they had to search for trees that had natural ones or they would move into cavities created by other animals that were vacated for one reason or another. However, due to the rapid increase of developments and habitat loss, their numbers decreased. People decided to try to provide homes for them to combat this decline in population and steadily the numbers have increased.
The second reason is because these birds are accustomed to simply building a nest on top of another nest. This can create a problem in the nest box as the closer to the entrance hole they get, the easier it will be for a predator to reach in and get them! Not only are predators encouraged to reach in but a whole host of things will start to grow or move in. Parasites, such as the blow fly, will move in and cause harm to the nestlings. Bacteria and fungi can grow in the nest and spread disease. Since their beak simply isn’t strong enough to remove the whole nest, it is extremely important that we help the birds out so that their numbers don’t decline again due to something completely preventable.
The third reason is because other invasive bird species, such as House Sparrows and Starlings, will come in to the empty nests once the bird family has fledged and moved out for the season (Late September or February if you are waiting until they would return to the nest), hence discouraging the blue birds from nesting there in future seasons. Some types of House Sparrows are even brazen enough to fight Blue Birds while they’re nesting and if there are eggs, the sparrows may try to destroy the eggs. If the nest gets cleaned out of the box after the Blue Birds are done using it, the invasive species will move on and look for a pre-made nest elsewhere.
So yes, helping these birds and cleaning out the nest for them is very important to their success! Fortunately for us, cleaning the nest out doesn’t have to be difficult. There are some simple steps to take to ensure that the previous nest is cleaned out and the box is ready for future nesting.
- Make sure that the nest is an empty nest! It is actually illegal to remove active nests of native birds like the Blue Bird, however, it is completely fine to remove active nests of invasive species and it is encouraged. To find out if a nest is active, gently tap on the side of the box and listen for movement. Then peer inside briefly to discover what species is living in the box to see if the nest can be removed or not. Remember, any scared animal may jump out when you open the box! Be prepared!
- You can tell if it’s a used, empty Blue Bird nest by looking to see if the lightweight nest is comprised of hair, feathers, grasses and pine. There would have been a cup in the center, but a used nest will be slightly flattened out. If they are Blue Birds, leave them be for roughly a week and check again.
- The boxes should be checked every week or so in order to ensure that the birds are doing well. Do not worry about finding the baby birds inside and thinking that a parent won’t return because they smell a human. Birds have an extremely limited sense of smell and won’t know.
- Scrape out the empty nest and put it in a bag. (A good method for doing this is by wearing an inverted bag on your hand to prevent coming in contact with the potentially diseased nest.) Make sure that you have your mouth and nose covered to prevent breathing in dust or avian disease. Tie the bag off to prevent any parasites from getting out.
- Inspect the box for any broken or unwanted protruding parts like screws or nails and make any necessary repairs to prevent animal injury. Plug up any unwanted holes.
- Brush the box out and then scrape the inside down with a scraping tool like a paint scraper or putty knife.
- Wash the box out with a 10% bleach solution and then leave the box to dry. The bleach will break down fairly quickly (within 24 hours), so don’t worry about harming the birds once they return.
- If desired, you can add Diatomaceous Earth to prevent the future nest from being inhabited by Blowfly larvae. When the larvae crawl over the earth, it cuts them up and causes them to become dehydrated and die off.
- Dispose of the old nest far away or throw it out to prevent predators from coming around.
- Wash or sanitize your hands as soon as possible to prevent the spread of any potential disease!
In order to make your cleanings as easy as possible, make sure that your nest box can be easily accessed. Most boxes are able to be opened either on the sides or on the top.
Cleaning up after these creatures isn’t a chore; it is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to ensure their continued survival! The next few links provided will give you more information about where to buy a nest box, more cleaning techniques, and sites that let you upload your own Blue Bird Nest Box Observations!