Maintaining and Cleaning a Bluebird House

This summer I learned the importance of keeping up with regular cleaning and maintenance to keep your bluebird house looking fresh and new. The bluebirds built a nest this spring, but I never saw them coming and going to feed the nestlings. I wondered how the clutch had turned out. Would I have bluebirds in the house again next spring?

Since the first month we put up the box one spring, there were eastern bluebirds in it. The box was well-placed and perfect. We had known we had bluebirds, and I was distressed when they built nests in the hollows of the clothesline poles and laid eggs in the poles where the heat must have been terrific and the eggs never hatched.

We built the bluebird house to correct specs, hung it near the clothesline, planted a nice large shrub nearby, and plugged the clothesline pole's ends with old tennis balls. The bluebirds moved right into the house. Hooray! We had a pair every spring since, raising a nest of baby blues, but not this year.

Lesson learned
Then I learned that the house should be cleaned out every fall after the baby birds had flown. I guess I knew that all along. I knew we had built the house with nails inserted to secure the front board. They could be pulled and the front board swung out. Yet, I was of the false mind that if you messed with a birdhouse the parent birds would desert the baby birds and not return to feed them. In fact, this is not true. Parent birds will not ditch baby birds because you touch them. I also did not know that cleaning the birdhouse would protect the eggs and nestlings.

I had never cleaned out the old nests and thought the bluebirds used them again and again. They did use the house four years in a row, and that is what allowed the disaster. A woodpecker or some predator was able to perch at the front of the house and break open the eggs. When I checked the box I found four nests stacked on one another so that the eggs were in easy view and reach inside the entrance hole. In the nest were four eggs cracked open and empty.

I learned the importance of birdhouse maintenance. Always open the box at the end of the nesting season when you no longer see the birds entering and leaving. Clear out the whole nest and any debris or litter.

Martin housesshould be cleaned also and most come on poles that can be lowered with a winch or pulley for ease of cleaning. A friend of mine has a flagpole with a rig on it so he can lower the eight martin gourds he has on it with the flag cord and clean them in the winter. He also likes to lower the houses to look in on his guests and check on them frequently. Martin houses should be inspected weekly to remove sparrow nests.

Choosing a cleanable birdhouse
When choosing a house, be certain that you can clean it. It should be built with a side, front or back that can be opened easily. The space inside should be the right size to be inhabited by the bird it is made for. The extra space in my bluebird house was so the bird could have his nest deep in the base, far from woodpeckers' reach. Hang it where it can be reached for maintenance. The size of the opening is important because the bird should be able to enter and exit without larger birds and predators being able to invade the premises.

Do not buy or build houses(other than martin houses) made of metal. Leave the natural wood or choose houses painted muted colors that offer camouflage. Don't stain with lead-based paint, creosote, or use pressure-treated lumber.

The bird house needs to have drainage holes or slits so it won't fill up with rain. These should be checked to make certain they are not obstructed or clogged.

Cleaning how-to
Clean out houses after each nesting and also in the spring. An old paintbrush is a good tool for brushing out the nest box. If excessively soiled, wash the boxes out with soapy water and rinse thoroughly. This will get rid of mites also.

You may want to plug the entrances to your nesting boxes for the winter to prevent mice, sparrows or starlings from nesting in them. Make repairs as needed to older birdhouses or replace those that are beyond repair.

Wasp nests can be prevented by coating the ceiling of the birdhouse. Pyrethrum kills wasps and is harmless to birds. Clean out any mice or wasp nests in the spring.

Keeping your bird houses clean and in good repair helps assure many years of fun watching families of birds nesting in them.

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