When Should I Clean Out Bird Houses?

Updated: Mar. 28, 2024

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.