When Should I Clean Out Bird Houses?

Our birding experts recommend how and when to clean out bird houses. Also clean out bird houses after hosting roosting birds in winter.

When to Clean Out Bird Houses

“When should I clean out my bird houses?” asks Susan Alden of Lena, Wisconsin.

Kenn and Kimberly: Keeping bird houses clean is an essential part of being a proper host for cavity-nesting birds, so kudos to you for asking! This is why it’s important to use only nest boxes that allow you to access the interior of the box for cleaning. In terms of timing, it’s important to clean out the box after the young have fledged. Many species of cavity-nesting birds have more than one brood, and we recommend you clean out the box after each brood. It’s also important to monitor the nests for infestations of ants, wasps, mice, blowflies or any other unwelcome guests such as house sparrows that might potentially harm the nestlings.

Learn how to get rid of wasp nests in bird houses without pesticides.

How to Clean Out a Bird House

Question: What’s the best way to clean a nest box? —Ellie Blondin of Leesburg, Florida

Kenn and Kimberly: Cleaning is an important part of being a responsible bird host. We recommend cleaning out the box after each brood or at the end of the year, at a minimum. Because wasps, mice or other things that are potentially harmful may be in the box, never stick your hands inside if you can’t see the interior clearly.

When the breeding season is over, take down and scrub backyard bird houses. We use a paint scraper to remove the old nest, followed by a stiff brush to remove any debris. Wear gloves to protect your hands and a face mask to avoid inhaling any dust. Discard the contents far away from the nest box to avoid attracting predators. Do not use any soap, as it can harm the birds.

You can also use a 10% bleach solution (1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water) to remove any waste or insects left inside the shelter and rinse well. Do birds reuse their nests?

“The easiest way to clean a bird house is by first soaking the inside with water using a spray bottle. Then I just scrape out the old nesting materials,” says Tom Kovach of Park Rapids, Minnesota.

Will a robin use a bird house?

Cleaning Out Roosting Material After Winter

A chickadee looks toward the camera while perched on the edge of a wooden bird house.JENNIFER E. WOLF/Getty Images

Question: I put pinewood shavings in my bird house for winter. Is this a proper material, and when should I clean out the bird house? —Donn Ross of Shelby Township, Michigan

Kenn and Kimberly: It’s always a treat to discover that birds are using your nest boxes to roost at night or to seek shelter from the elements. To provide insulation in winter, pine shavings are fine to use. Another option is to line the bottom with a few handfuls of clean dried grass.

Backyard tip: Late winter is a good time to clean out bird houses and prepare them for new spring arrivals.

Read more: Build a one-board DIY birdhouse.

When to Clean Out Bluebird Houses

bluebird birdhouse placementCourtesy Linda Lesperance

Question: Bluebirds stay in a house in our yard year-round and raise several broods. When should we clean the house? —Bonnie Uhlenbrock of Griffin, Georgia

Kenn and Kimberly: While some bluebirds migrate to warmer climates in fall, many stay in the same place all year, especially in the South. They often roost in nest boxes during winter, as yours are doing, huddled together for added warmth on chilly nights. But being a responsible nest-box host means keeping them clean.

Bluebird experts suggest cleaning them out after each brood has fledged. If that isn’t possible, the boxes should be cleaned out after the last brood has left the nest in late summer. That timing won’t disturb them or drive them away.

Next, learn how to make a DIY bluebird house.

Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their questions to birding experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, who are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. Got a bird question for Kenn and Kimberly? Submit your questions! They may appear online or in a future issue of the magazine.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.
Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.