When to clean out bird houses – DO’S AND DONT’S

Bird houses are an attractive point in the garden to draw birds’ attention and give you chances to enjoy the natural beauty. Bird houses provide, not only birds shelter and warmth but also a nesting place. As you want to attract birds to your garden, you should keep birdhouses clean and healthy all year round for local birds. In this article, I will give some suggestions on when to clean out bird houses and how to do it. 

Why it is important to clean birdhouses

“Should I clean out birdhouses?” is the question I received regularly about taking care of birds and attracting them to your garden. For me, it is not compulsory but suggested to keep birdhouses clean. 

This isn’t necessary because often birds will clean it out themselves, but you can lend them a helping hand. There is no need to perform any cleanup for nests that are not in nest boxes (such as those in trees or shrubs). No matter how clean they are, most birds won’t utilize their old nests again. For each clutch, they normally create a new nest in a different site.  Some birds, such as chickadees, tend to avoid using cavities that contain old nests.

However, I still highly recommend you clean birdhouses to reduce diseases, ensure safety and attract the birds. 

Firstly, old nests are the perfect breeding ground for different parasites and bacteria. Birdhouses should always be cleaned out since bacteria can readily grow in the food or nesting materials that parent birds bring to their young. You can avoid getting sick birds by thoroughly cleaning your birdhouse. Even while parent birds do a fantastic job of keeping their home tidy and removing waste buildup as it occurs, the birdhouse will inevitably contain some leftover material.

Secondly, the majority of nests are constructed from dried grass, straw, and other perishable materials, so when the weather turns wet inside the house, they may start to rot. Furthermore, if the birdhouse is made of wood, the dampness may cause it to start rotting. 

Last but not least, a cleaned-out birdhouse is not only more hygienic, but it also attracts birds better. Your garden will become a proper host for more birds when you set up a safe and clean place there.

Check out this article: Step by step guides to birdwatching for beginners: Expert advices

When to clean out bird houses and when not to

You should focus on two times that birdhouses need deep cleaning: right after the breeding season and right before breeding season. In general, this indicates September and early March. It can be as early as late summer, depending on the kinds of birds that have utilized it. When cleaning a box in the summer, you have to be certain birds aren’t still using it.  When asked about when to clean out birdhouses, I will say that the best time is in the middle to late in the fall. 

Cleaning in between broods is also beneficial for ectoparasite management. Birds normally build one nest for the first brood and then move it to a new location for the second. If a box is not cleaned, the following family can encounter an infection or decide not to nest there at all. 

Some species, like wrens, do a fantastic job of maintaining their houses and getting rid of parasites, but other species don’t keep up with cleaning schedules such as bluebirds. Cleaning your bird boxes in between broods can help keep ectoparasites, dander, and dust to a minimum.

On the contrary, it is not suggested to clean out birdhouses during the winter months. To get ready for breeding, certain species, like owls, may start building nests as early as December. To stay warm, certain other species, such as chickadees and woodpeckers, may also spend the winter in birdhouses. Therefore, you should prepare a nice, clean place in the winter to provide birds warmth and shelter under severe weather conditions as well as not to bother them during breeding time. 

When to clean out bird houses?

Here is the timing of events in breeding season using All About Birds by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Oregon Birds by David Marshall, you can estimate when to clean out bird houses perfectly: after the breeding season and before breeding season depending on your bird behaviors.

  • American Crow: LATE MAR to MID-APR
  • American Goldfinch: JUN through JUL
  • American Robin: EARLY MAY to LATE AUG
  • Anna’s Hummingbird: EARLY FEB to MID-JUN
  • Bewick’s Wren: MAR to APR
  • Black-capped Chickadee: LATE MAR to EARLY APR
  • Black-headed Grosbeak: LATE MAY to MID-JUN
  • Bushtit: FEB to MID-APR
  • California Scrub-Jay: LATE FEB – LATE MAY
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee: LATE MAR to MID-JUNDark-eyed Junco: LATE APR to EARLY JUN
  • Downy Woodpecker: LATE APR to LATE MAY
  • Lesser Goldfinch: MID-APR to LATE JUN
  • Northern Flicker: MID-APR to MID-MAY
  • Pileated Woodpecker: LATE MAR to EARLY MAY
  • Pine Siskin: APR through JUL
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: MID-APR to MID-JUN
  • Song Sparrow: MID-APR to LATE MAY then MID-JUN to EARLY JUL
  • Spotted Towhee: MID-APR to LATE JUN
  • Steller’s Jay: LATE MAR to LATE JUN
  • Tree Swallow: MAR through JUN
  • Violet-green Swallow: APR through JUN
  • Western Screech-Owl: courtship beings JAN/FEB

How to clean out birdhouses – 9 easy ways

  • For adequate cleaning, open the birdhouses or if necessary, partially disassemble them. Bird homes with adjustable fronts, hinged roofs, or swinging sides are the quickest and most thorough to clean. I recommend wearing a pair of garden gloves or rubber dish-washing gloves when handling old nest material as it can contain bacteria and mites.
  • Scrape out any waste or clumped material, and remove all previous nesting materials. To stop the spread of any parasites it could contain, this material should be disposed of in a plastic bag. If desired, old nesting materials can also be composted.
  • Thoroughly scrub the home with a mild bleach solution (one part chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water). To get rid of all pollution and debris, be sure to scrub the entrance hole, drainage holes, and ventilation holes. You can use an unscented dish soap and warm water solution to keep the mold from spreading or permanently staining your house.
  • To ensure that there are no harsh chemicals or fumes left behind that could harm birds, thoroughly rinse the house with clean water for several minutes.
  • For at least a few hours, completely dry the house in the sunlight. By doing this, any residual chlorine will be broken down and any damp cracks where mold or mildew could grow will be eliminated.
  • Check the home for risks that could hurt adult or hatchling birds, such as loose hinges, exposed screws, nails, or splinters. To keep the house secure, fix any problems.
  • Check out your bamboo or cedar home. Although a minor crack doesn’t always imply your home isn’t functioning, it’s important to cover any significant ones using wood sealant to keep the interior of your home dry during rainy spring and summer months. Verify each screw, making careful to tighten any that may have come loose for the season.
  • Verify that none of the drainage or ventilation apertures are blocked. Drill more holes if necessary to improve the house by adding ventilation or drainage.
  • Securely repair the house, making sure that all of the screws, hinges, and joints are secure. After the breeding season is through, put the house together in the form of a winter bird roost box so that birds can use it as a safe space.
  • Return wooden birdhouses to their hooks or posts so they can be used as roost boxes for chilly winter evenings, or store delicate gourds or clay birdhouses for the winter so they live longer.

Birdhouses DO’s and DONT’s

When to clean out bird houses?
When to clean out bird houses?

1. Mount birdhouses atop metal poles to protect them from cats and raccoons. A birdhouse should be hung from a branch if you wish to mount it in a tree. The height where you place bird boxes should be at least five feet off the ground. However, you can mount them at any height you can reach safely. Keep the birdhouses separate from the feeders if you provide bird feeders in your yard. 

2. If your bird home has a perch, you can remove it as well. Perches are superfluous, and house sparrows may use them to taunt birds within the birdhouse. Make sure the bird home you choose is well-insulated while making your selection. Also, drain holes in the bottom of your birdhouses and ventilation holes high on the sides of the house for summer heat are good things to watch for. 

3. Although the shade is not necessary, if you can offer some protection from the blazing late-afternoon sun, I would try to arrange accommodations. More than shielding it from the sun, greenery has the advantage of hiding where the birdhouse is.

4. Lastly, if you decide to put up more than one birdhouse keep them well separated and out of site from one another. 


In conclusion, cleaning out birdhouses at least once a year is vital in maintaining a healthy place for attracting birds. You need to know when to clean out bird houses and how to do that in the right way to be ready to welcome birds coming back for nesting.