Bird nests do not need to be removed from the box after the fledglings have left unless it is the end of the season. Although birds will not reuse old nests because of mites and other debris, they will reuse some of the materials for their new nest.
What You'll Learn
When keeping bird boxes, many people feel they should remove old bird nests to free up space for a new nest. However, this is unnecessary, as birds are intelligent animals and have their own methods of using an old nest.
Before you remove an old bird’s nest from a bird box, you should be certain that the nest really needs to be removed, otherwise, you could discourage the birds from building in your boxes in the future.
Most Nests Don’t Need to be Removed
Despite your urge to remove an old nest from a bird box, most nests do not actually need to be removed. Although it’s true that birds will not reuse an old nest for new eggs, many birds reuse materials from their old nest when constructing a new one. This is usually because it can be easier for them than gathering all new materials, especially when a new nest may be close to the old nest location.
Another reason nests can be left in bird boxes is to confuse predators. Old nests usually contain mites, other bugs, and bird droppings, and a predator with a strong sense of smell will be able to locate the old nest based on smell alone.
Leaving empty nests can act as a defense mechanism because there’s a chance a predator will approach the old nest in search of eggs or hatchlings and turn up empty-handed.
Birds that are actively building may also occasionally need a place to hide from danger or rest until their new nest is ready. Old nests make a great location for this.
When Are Bird’s Nests Okay to Remove?
Sometimes, removing an old bird’s nest may seem more urgent. Maybe the old nest is in an inaccessible location, or it is installed too close to your home and is causing a bug problem. Luckily, there are a few cases when it is okay to remove a bird’s nest from the box early.
To begin, it is important to ensure that any nest you are removing is empty of eggs. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if eggs are remaining, especially inside dark bird boxes, so you want to make sure you aren’t harming an active nest.
If your bird box is in a difficult location to get a look inside, simply monitor the box for any movement. If you watch the box for a few days and don’t see any birds entering or leaving it, it is a good sign that the nest has been abandoned and has no viable eggs.
One reason you may want to remove an old bird’s nest from a box is if the old nest is drawing an infestation of bugs or bird mites.
As mentioned above, an old bird’s nest has a strong smell that many animals and insects can pick up on.
Uneaten dead bugs from the bird’s hatchling phase may attract other bugs, such as ants. In these cases, and especially when the old bird’s nest is near the home or outdoor leisure area, it is helpful to remove the old nest.
Another reason for removing an old bird’s nest from the box early is if the box is in a poor location.
Sometimes, the location for a bird box can be great to start, but may need adjusting throughout the season. Maybe other animals can access your bird box, or it was placed in a location that is not well-protected from the elements.
In these cases, it is helpful to remove the old bird’s nest so that you can relocate the box.
Removing Old Nests at the End of the Season
Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, the best time to remove old bird nests from bird boxes is at the end of the mating season, which can vary by location, but usually occurs around the end of June in the Northern Hemisphere. Here are some steps to remove an old bird’s nest from the box.
First, ensure you wear gloves, accompanied by a long sleeve shirt. Old bird nests are full of mites, bugs, and many other bacteria-causing agents. It is common to get some mites on your skin when removing an old bird’s nest, and a long sleeve shirt and gloves can help protect your skin from potential irritation caused by bird mites.
If you have allergies or breathing problems such as asthma, it can also be a good idea to wear a mask while cleaning out an old bird’s nest. This will keep any tiny particles of debris, including old bird droppings, out of your nose, lungs, and sinuses.
Second, scatter the old nest far away from active bird boxes. The powerful smell of the old nest will continue to attract predators and bugs, and you don’t want them to be drawn toward any nests that are still in use.
Once you have the bird box empty, leave it open so it can sit in the sunlight for a day or two. Sunlight can help remove odors and bacteria from the box without using harsh chemicals that may deter birds.
Finally, wash your hands thoroughly and change into a clean set of clothes.
Don’t Remove The Nest Unless Necessary
Although you may be tempted to remove old bird nests from boxes as soon as the hatchlings have left, most bird nests don’t need to be removed from the box until the end of the season.
In fact, leaving old bird nests in the box has many benefits to the ecosystem of your backyard. There are a few cases where removing an old bird’s nest is necessary, and it should be done with care to ensure the box is ready for new inhabitants when next Spring rolls around!
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.