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To Clean Or Not To Clean Your Nest Box?

Photo © Steven Liffmann

By Anita Tendler, Cornell Class of 2019

Prior to the breeding season, we make sure that our nest boxes are ready for their future occupants. As the season progresses, we watch the naked hatchlings grow and develop into fully-feathered fledglings. Once the breeding season comes to a close, our nest boxes are abandoned and the leftover nesting material remains, which leaves the question, “What should be done with old nests?”

Nest boxes vs natural cavities

Eastern Bluebirds In A Tree Cavity

Eastern Bluebirds In A Tree Cavity

In natural cavities, birds often must deal with old nesting material that is already present.

Nest selection of natural cavities is quite different in comparison to our handy nest boxes. With a finite number of natural cavities to choose from, most birds can’t afford to be too picky. Birds often choose to reuse successful natural cavities because constructing a nest from scratch requires critical and limited time and energy. However, the threat of ectoparasites (e.g. mites, blowfly larvae) from the old nesting material can also act as a strong deterrent for cavity selection. With most birds not having the option to be choosy with their nest site selection, birds like the Eastern Bluebird simply build atop old nesting material if alternative cavities aren’t available.

Nest boxes provide cavity-nesting species the option to choose among several nest sites. As well-constructed as some nest boxes might be, they are not immune to ectoparasites, the presence of which can deter some birds from occupying a nest box.

Does removing old nests mean fewer ectoparasites?

Some birds have adapted to cope with ectoparasites, so cleaning out your nest box may not have any impact on whether they occupy it. Male House Wrens, for example, clean out the old nesting material between clutches, essentially doing the job for you.

House Wren Readying The Nest

House Wren Readying The Nest

Male House Wrens remove old nesting material between clutches.

To measure whether human intervention was helpful, researchers in Illinois removed old nesting material from some nest boxes that they knew successfully reared fledglings in the prior breeding season (Pacejka and Thompson 1996). With the other boxes left for the House Wrens to clean, the researchers conducted a mite count to determine if there was a perceptible difference. They found that there was no real difference, so regardless of who, or what, cleans out your nest box, mites will still be there.

Not all birds clean house

Bluebirds do not remove old nesting material, rather they simply build over an existing nest. If you do not clean out your nest box, it may become filled to the brim with old nesting material. This can potentially leave the new nest dangerously close to the entrance hole, where predators can easily reach it.

Eastern Bluebird Eggs

Eastern Bluebird Eggs

Some bluebirds prefer a clean nest box, but it depends on location.

To learn whether removing old nests influenced Eastern Bluebird nest box occupancy, a team of researchers in North Carolina erected 100 nest boxes. After a successful first clutch, they cleaned out half and left the others as is. When the bluebirds were left to make a choice to re-nest in a box with a positive association or to avoid ectoparasites, a whopping 71% of them them chose to move to a clean nest box (Stanback and Dervan 2001).

So that means you should clean your nest boxes, right? As compelling as these results are, it’s important to remember that this is situation-dependent. Interestingly, opposite conclusions were reached in a Kentucky study that found that Eastern Bluebirds in that state preferred nest boxes with old nests in them (Davis et al. 1994). There, parasitic wasps kill blowfly pupae over the winter; therefore, removing old nesting material may actually compromise this natural process.

To clean or not to clean? It depends…

Cleaning out your nest box is your choice, as nest site selection varies among cavity-nesting species. When making your decision, feel free to weigh the pros and cons, taking into consideration individual species preference and ectoparasite abundance. If you’re hoping to attract House Wrens to your nest box, don’t worry, they’ve got it covered. But, Eastern Bluebirds are a bit tricky. Depending on where you are, cleaning out your nest box may either invite or deter them.

A Mouse's House

A Mouse's House

Whether you decide to clean out your nest box at the end of the breeding season or not, don’t forget that leftover nesting materials make the perfect home for small mammals. If mice occupy nest boxes, you should definitely clean the boxes in the spring by removing nest material and washing with a soapy solution. Take precaution and wear gloves and a mask when removing rodent nests; they are far less fastidious than birds.


  • Davis, W. H., P. J. Kalisz, and R. J. Wells. 1994. Eastern bluebirds prefer boxes containing old nests (Preferencia en Sialia sialis por cajas que contienen nidos viejos). Journal of Field Ornithology 65(2):250–253. Link
  • Pacejka, A. J., and C. F. Thompson. 1996. Does removal of old nests from nestboxes by researchers affect mite populations in subsequent nests of house wrens? Journal of Field Ornithology 67(4):558–64. Link
  • Stanback, M. T., and A. A. Dervan. 2001. Within-season nest-site fidelity in eastern bluebirds: disentangling effects of nest success and parasite avoidance. The Auk 118(3):743. DOI: 10.2307/4089937

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190 responses to “To Clean Or Not To Clean Your Nest Box?”

  1. Kevin Holladay says:

    In northern New Mexico we are close to the epicenter of the country’s hotspot for hanta virus. Deer mice, Peromyscus, are the main vector for this virus….great reason to clean out nest boxes every year for Western and Mountain Bluebirds.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Great point, Kevin!

    • Yvonne says:

      We have moved to the mountains of NC and know there is a mouse population. We have a covered outdoor deck and I have seen mouse droppings on one chair. I cleaned those off, but because our deck is stained dark, not sure if there are others or even urine. Because it is outside, wondering. If I should sweep the deck off or scrub the entire deck with a disinfectant and how often. Appreciate your thoughts.

      • Yoshie Pomerville says:


        I heard that cotton balls soaked in mint oil repel field mice. There used to be a summer camp place in northern Ohio that had something they called cavents. These are stationary tents with a wooden structure with canvas material walls. There used to be mouse problems in these until a woman placed cotton balls on the four corners of the cavent.

  2. Barbara Walker says:

    I’ve been told other knowledgeable Bluebird enthusiasts that it’s important to remove the old nest because if a new nest is built on top of the old one the babies and parents become vulnerable to predators, being closer to the access hole.

    Also it’s easier to see what sort of bird is rebuilding if you start with a clean box.

    • Joni says:

      I was so disappointed this season. I had previously rented to a great crested flycatchers, but this year two went in nest box, and decided against it! I don’t know why. Could it be a cat, that is hanging around? Squirrels? Crows, that I’ve been feeding? Next yr, I’m getting rid of cat, hopefully some of the squirrels, but am undecided on crows! Please let me know what y’all think! Thank you!m

      • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

        Hi Joni, It’s hard to predict where birds will nest each season, but there are some things that we can do to help make nest boxes as attractive as possible. One is to ensure that the nest box is cleaned out at least once per year (the autumn is a good time), and to check it before the start of breeding season in case any rodents made a winter home. You can also view the preferences of Great Crested Flycatchers here, and a list of general recommendations here. In any case, predators can certainly deter birds from nesting if they have a run-in with one near the potential nesting space. The best thing you can do to help prevent predators is mount the box on a pole and install a predator guard.

      • Tori says:

        Ummm…Joni….”getting rid of cat” sounds ominous, is it even your cat? And also getting rid of some squirrels??? Really? Playing God? Careful…karma karen.

        • Joni says:

          When I said, “get rid of cat, and squirrels”, meant stop feeding them. I feed 3 FERREL cats, twice a day! I also feed squirrels. Some squirrels will take a peanut, from my hand! So, I am not playing God! That is an odd comment to make, really. By the way, I am a bird watcher, and have several bird feeders. It is hard, to keep the squirrels off my bird feeders. I would never do anything to hurt, the cats or squirrels. You totaly misunderstood me. Playing God? Really? How?

          • Violet Shehan says:

            You can feed birds Safflower Bird seed. Squirrels do not like it. It cost a lot more but keeps the squirrels out of feeders.

          • Greg says:

            It gets frustrating and a bit expensive fighting off the unwelcome. When I lived up in the north cascades I had squirrels and rodents get into the feeder and I almost gave up. But I thought, what could there be that they’d not like? I make my own salsa so decided to sprinkle red chili pepper in with the seeds. Birds don’t have tongues but boy did the squirrels do a two step when they ate a pepper seed. Now I’m doing it around my orchard down here in Oregon to keep the deer out.

        • Robert gomez says:

          You were talking to that person about being careful for karma for getting rid of the cat. But maybe that person wasn’t going to hurt the cat. And frankly even though I am a cat lover I am also a bird lover and I know for a fact that it is cruel to have feral cats all over the place because they eat birds and they eat native birds and we have lost billions and billions of bird population and one of the reasons is feral cats. And loss of habitat so cats belong inside the house. It’s safer for them and they do not hurt the environment because cats are not native to our area and they eat birds and they kill native birds. So what about sound having a cat that eats native birds? Does that mean they’re going to have karma for that too because they’re allowing cats that don’t belong in the environment to eat birds? You see it works both ways

          • P says:

            We’re indoor cat lovers, my feeling is they are an invasive species period. Should not be free to kill everything. So if neighbor refuses to at least keep the feline on their property well that’s trespassing. The neighbors say oh yes we keep them on their property, no they don’t. Removal is the only option.

          • Valerie says:

            Just a reminder. If you spray or use toxic chemicals on your lawn or in the air, you are killing insects – thus birds. Baby birds eat insects..and bugs..worms…grubs.. etc…

            Let’s be kind to one another.. No judging. Let’s look at ourselves and see what we can differently. Cats are people, too. 😉 Smile.. <3

          • Lisa Burke says:

            I appreciate everyone’s comments about these great critters we all love. I feed them all fix the cats and find homes. After all, people cause the feral cat problem. Cats are just doing what nature says. We feed squirrels in a separate area but yes, they do eat birds food too. We put enough out for everyone and follow all protection guides for the birds. I love them all.

  3. bpsperry says:

    Just what does cleaning out a nest box mean? Merely emptying it of nesting material or is there a need to “wash” it?

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Simply emptying it of nest materials.

    • Joni says:

      Some experts recommend taking a 1part bleach, to 3 part water solution, and wiping inside of box. I’ve never tried that, but it would kill any micro bugs that may be in box.

      • Barb Paquette says:

        I do that in the fall after I know the Bluebirds are done nesting for the season. The mixture I use is a 10:1 ratio of water to bleach, wiping it down inside with a rag, then leaving the door open for a couple weeks so it can dry quickly. I don’t use any chemicals between broods though and I am certainly no expert-just a lover of these wonderful little birds

      • Val says:

        Who are the experts? I say the expert is the person who lives it, not quotes hearsay. 😉 I’ve discovered over time that we are repeating things and assuming they are true. Check to see if experts have lived it? First hand experience is so important to me. Also, where are the experts getting their information and from how many sources? <3 I wonder if the birdhouse people — those selling are experts or out to make a buck? Sending love. Trust yourself and fellow birders.

    • Lydia says:

      Bluebirds and Tree Swallows have been nesting in my birdhouses for 10 consecutive years. I clean the boxes in March (I leave the nest for winter protection for other animals). I scrub the inside with soapy water (biodegradable dishwashing liquid and plastic brush) and then I pour boiling water to thoroughly rinse the inside. I leave it to dry open in the sun, it dries quickly.

  4. Kevin Corwin says:

    I monitor a line of nestboxes about 30 miles south of Denver, they get Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. I check them weekly, and when a bluebird nest fledges the female quickly builds a new cup (not an entirely new nest structure) on top of the old flattened one and has already started laying the second set of eggs before my next weekly monitoring trip. The Tree Swallows nest much later than the bluebirds and only once each season.

  5. Janet K says:

    Thank you for this article. I’ve wondered if blue blue birds would re-use their nests. We get blue birds and chickadees in our 8 nest boxes. They make very different kinds of nests. I’ve assumed that a bluebird would not move into a box with an existing chickadee nest. I’ve always cleaned them out so that all boxes are equal in the spring. I usually leave the nests until late January in case someone wants to use it for cold weather shelter. So far we’ve not had any issues with mice moving in.

  6. George Kaye says:

    Interesting blogs about cleaning out nestboxes and predator guard effectiveness!
    I monitor about 75 nest boxes in Franklin NC, most of which are near the Little Tennessee River. A serious “predator” problem I deal with is ants. They love to move into the boxes with their own eggs. I believe I have no choice but to get rid of the nests when nesting season is over. Even during nesting season, when the birds have fledged, I get rid of the nest so the next bird will not have to build a new nest on an ant colony.
    I obtained some diatomaceous earth to sprinkle on the nestbox floor nest spring to see if this helps. Anyone have any experience with diatomaceous earth?

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi George, we hear you about the ants! Fire ants, especially, can prey on nestlings. NestWatcher Tara T. in Florida shares her ant-proofing tips in this years’ annual report: “In the Southeast, fire ants
      can be a serious problem. We have caulked the small space between the predator guards and the posts, and just before our birds begin laying, we go out and spray a few inches of the post just under the guard with ant spray. The caulk keeps rain from washing it away and it has proven to be effective at saving the nestlings from the ants.”

    • Yes, we use diatomaceous earth (diatoms) in our chicken coop to control mites. Works great and is safe for foul and even earthworms in the soil.

    • Angela says:

      Hi George- ants hate coffee grounds. We put used grounds all around our house and have no ants on our porches- I am thinking putting coffee grounds around the bluebird boxes will help them too!

    • Jeff Coffee says:

      To keep out ants one effective method is to use teflon tape on a vertical post. Wrapping it upward (so ants can’t grab the edges) for a few inches will make it extremely difficult for ants to climb. You will need regular tape on the very top row to keep it from unraveling. If you’re boxes are attached to trees, they should be only a few inches in diameter and have no deep grooves in the bark. Smooth bark helps. Good luck.

    • Kathy Rickards says:

      I used diatomaceous earth in one bluebird house, after removing the old nest, as it was infected w mites. In 1 1/2 nesting seasons no bird at all has used the box. Don’t know if that is the reason or not……

    • Margot Robartes says:

      Cinnamon. Ants HATE powdered cinnamon and will not put their feet in it at all. It’s a clean way to deter them. I’ve had little piles of cinnamon on windowsills, outside as well. It truly works. Just top it up to keep the scent fresh.
      New Zealand

    • Joni says:

      I’ve read that using 1 part bleach-3part water solution is best for cleaning, and getting rid of all bugs. I’ve never had a problem with ants, tho. Good luck.

    • Interesting comments! We have hosted 3 generations of Junkos in the same birdhouse that sits 6 feet above ground between our garage openings. We have never cleaned anything and they keep coming back! They seem to love when we are around them at our driveway/patio and walk around when they are seeking worms to tag team back to the kids! Hope they will continue to be our guests Spring after Spring! Huntley in Cashiers, NC

  7. Annie and David says:

    Hi Fellow NestWatchers,
    We have had a Western Bluebird box with guard for a few years and every year the first clutch is successful. However, the second clutch never has survived. We go to clean the box out and for tree years in a row there are desiccated babies left in the box. Does anyone know what is wrong? Should we shut up the box after the first clutch has fledged?

    • Same Walton says:

      Could be that by the time the second clutch hatches, the Earth’s path relative to the sun has changed enough that the sun’s rays are entering the nesthole directly and it gets too hot.

  8. Rich says:

    Annie & David, I also have nest boxes for Western Bluebird, and my experience for achieving a second clutch is cleaning the next box out after the first clutch. The bluebirds are quick to rebuild a second nest. Not sure if cleaning out the nest box is the primary reason for a successful second clutch, but you may want to test it. Also consider that the weather temp. during the second clutch maybe higher. Good ventilation is important. As a side note I’ve noticed the offsprings from the first clutch help to feed the young of the second clutch.

  9. Kelly says:

    My bluebirds stay in the box all year round. I have never cleaned it out because I am afraid to disrupt their home. It has been many years. Not sure what to do

  10. Deb Collette says:

    I clean out my Gilbertson boxes after each brood and drop them in a 10% bleach solution for about ten minutes. Then I rinse them very well and let them dry overnight. I’ve never had any parasites and the birds begin building their second nest within days of my putting the houses back up. I leave the boxes out all winter for the birds to use to roost in if they need cover. I’m in Toledo, Ohio.

    • fred albini says:

      Thanks do much. I’ve been looking for how to clean a Gilbertson box . I’ve had pretty good luck with bluebirds.Now if I can get someone to tell me the kind of camera to fit in there and if it would deter birds from building.

  11. Sharen Arnold says:

    This question is a little off topic, but I hope you can help. Last summer, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds had a clutch in a gourd house I had hung from a tree. I saw the parents bringing food and carrying away fecal sacs. Then one day there was no activity. No sightings of any birds at all. At the end of the season, I checked the gourd and found a perfect nest with no signs of eggshells. I don’t know if the clutch fledged or if a snake might have gotten in and eaten the babies so the parents abandoned the nest. I don’t know how old the babies were. If the babies fledged, would it be abrupt? Wouldn’t the family be near the nest for a few days until the babies could fly well? I appreciate any info you can share. I’ve informed myself better and put up houses with baffles this year, but wonder about those babies from last year.

    • Holly Faulkner says:

      Hi Sharon, It does sound like a snake or other predator had gotten in to your nest box. Please feel free to check out our Nest Box Troubleshooting Guide for more possible culprits and ways to prevent similar occurrences from happening in the future.

    • Dan says:

      For two years I have had a pair of blue birds actively raising a brood of chicks. They are very active feeding at least three chicks along with removing the fecal material. I enjoy watching the young feeding and just when it is time for them to fly, they just disappear overnight. I will check the nest in a day or so, but last year they left a perfect nest. Seems they just disappeared overnight. Anybody else have this happen. It just seems that the parents and chicks disappear until next season. The location of the box is excellent predator prevention.

      • Kathy C says:

        This happens every year with our Eastern Bluebirds. The parents will take the fledglings one night into the nearby woods. I’m assuming they’re keeping them safe until they can feed on their own because in a week or two they bring the young birds back around to show them the feeders. Then the juveniles hang around while the parents make their next nest. It’s happened multiple years. It’s nerve wracking wondering if they’re all ok but wonderful when they finally show up again.

  12. Darcy says:

    i live in south western Ohio. At what time of the year should you clean out old nests if you are going to do it? Thank you.

    • Holly Faulkner says:

      Hi Darcy,
      If you choose to, you should clean out nest boxes after the breeding season is over in fall. As mentioned in the article above, some birds and small mammals may use the nest boxes to roost over the cold months, so you may decide to wait until early spring. However, if you wait, it would be a good idea to check out our Common Nesting Birds and Right Bird, Right House tools (found under the “Learn” tab at the top of the page) to investigate the species in question and view the months where it is actively breeding, so you can avoid clearing the nest box then.
      -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  13. Karen says:

    I live in Pawling ny & I saw the bluebirds return to the house they used last season but I did not clean it out yet should I do it now before they move in?

  14. Sunni says:

    I’ve watched a pair of bluebirds drive established tree swallows out of a box nest, then carry all the contents out, dropping it along their flight path. When they were satisfied they had done enough, they found their own new material to carry in.

  15. Deirdre says:

    The Bewick’s Wrens in a nest box on our porch fledged yesterday. This has been a successful box each spring for several years. Sometimes there is a second brood and just now, the adults seem to be starting over with courtship behavior – not removing nesting material.

    Should I clean out the box between broods in the same year? Same question applies to Black-crested titmouse nests in boxes.

    I usually clean out the boxes in the late summer or fall and put some pine straw to provide roosting protection. – in central Texas

  16. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Deirdre, During the breeding season, you should leave the nesting material in the box – the parents will likely need it for another brood. At the end of the season, you can remove the nesting material and scrub the inside with a mild detergent and water.
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

    • Dan says:

      I have had Blue Bird boxes 30 years + , 2-3 hatches / year. I clean out after every fledging if possible to discourage sparrow take over. Blue birds rebuild quickly. Make sure bottom vent holes are clean & open. Blue birds every year ! Dan.. Michigan.

  17. Chip C. says:

    I installed a new nest box here in west/central florida recently. About two weeks ago I began seeing a female eastern bluebird in and out of the box. She had completed a fine nest within 4 or 5 days. Now, 7 to 10 days after nest completion, I see both her and a male ‘hunting’ from a nearby power line but still no eggs in the box as of today … 4/25/18. Is it likely the nest will still be used and that I simply need to be patient? Thanks!

  18. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Chip,
    Birds will sometimes make multiple nests, and it’s common for some to start building a nest and then stop. It’s possible these bluebirds decided not to finish the nest, or that they have another nearby. That being said, even if they don’t decide to use this nest, they or another pair may decide to use the box for their (second) brood.
    Let us know if you have further questions at
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  19. Rose says:

    My birds are doing spring cleaning right now. 😀 yay

  20. Jackie says:

    Central Florida here……we have had Eastern bluebirds nesting in our two boxes for several years. Generally have 2 to 4 Broods each season and I usually clean out the nesting box after they fledge . We always seem to miss when the babies fledge…. Is there a time of day that they usually fledge out? We sit about 12 ft away on our deck, and they are used to seeing us but we’ve never seen the babies leave. We usually do see them later, but would love to see their first flight. We keep mealworms available almost all the time for them so they keep coming back…. Which we love. We have their second brood this season apparently getting ready to fledge, but other than sitting here 24 hours a day I think we’ll miss them again. But still love having them nearby.

    • Hi Jackie, I have been lucky enough to see many fledglings leave the nest. The mom and dad will begin in the morning around 8 -9. They visit the box every 2-5 minutes, chirping and encouraging the first baby to come out. The baby will begin to stick it’s head out and put it’s little feet on the rim of the box exit. It will be very chirpy. The first baby may take 20 minutes or longer to be convinced to fly. Mom and dad usually position themselves in a very near by tree where the baby can see each of them and when it takes flight, it will fly to the mom. The dad will fly out and fly beside the baby until it is safely beside the mom. The parents take a few minutes to get the baby settled on a nearby branch. Then within 5 mins, they begin the process over with the next baby. After all babies are out, the parents take the next 2 weeks training their little family how to eat and fly from tree to tree. I have watched this wonderful sight for more than 30 years. Enjoy.

      • Robert Foster says:

        Awesome! Only a rookie here, but that’s exactly how they did with my four last year.

        • Brenda says:

          Also you could set up a game camera which I do…this catches many animals that I seem to miss as I’ve very busy and away from home a lot…

  21. Laura T says:

    We have 6 boxes up and 1 has a blue bird and 4 have tree swallows. The last has what we call a hoarder – filled right up to the top with sticks and pine needles. Has anyone ever seen or heard of a bird doing that? We were wondering if it was the bluebird being territorial otherwise as it is closest to theirs. Anyway, when do we clean out the boxes for tree swallows and bluebirds? I’ve heard with bluebirds after their first brood so they can nest again, but having trouble finding info on tree swallows. What about barn swallows as well? Thank you! We are in St. Croix Falls, WI.

    • Cindy says:

      This is a bit late, but wrens do that.
      They want all of the nesting boxes so keep your eye on the others. They may try to take them over too.

    • Charlotte says:

      House sparrows(English sparrows) will build a nest like that. We have had them move in and kill the bluebird that was sitting on the nest. They did it twice to swallows that were nesting in the box. They will build right over the dead bird, so as soon as I see one go into the nesting box, I clean it out and open the side to deter them. Unfortunately it also deters the other birds too. I found that hanging weighted fishing line just one either side of the opening deters the sparrows but not the bluebirds and swallows. I was told that at the Wild Birds Unlimited store. The sparrows don’t like anything that would brush against their wings, but it doesn’t bother the other birds. I was skeptical, but it really does work. Had bluebirds in one box and tree swallows in the other and they raised two clutches each this year.

  22. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Laura,
    You shouldn’t need to clean out the boxes for any of these species as all have been known to re-use nests (unless of course there are parasites/infestations that need taking care of). However, if you do decide to clean out a nest box, it may require some precise timing: you’ll need to wait until you’re sure all of the nestlings have fledged and yet also when there is no signs yet that a bird is attempting to lay a second clutch. Our best advice is to clean them in autumn, and again in very early spring, even February, if they are being used as a roost over the winter.
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  23. John H Matthews says:

    I have a bird house hanging from the corner of the carport roof. In the past 12 months I have had Carolina Wrens living there and they have had 3 sets of offspring. the last group just left the nest. I inspected the interior and they had used the previous nest and just added to it. I have started building houses for the birds in my back yard which include American Restart (RARE), Titmouse, Black Caped Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Speckeled Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Doves, Finch, Thrush,and Blue Birds flying thru.
    I do not think it is necessary to clean out the houses. THe birds make do.

  24. Katie says:

    We live in northern West Virginia and we had five bluebird eggs in one of our nesting boxes, and gradually one by one the bluebirds threw the eggs out of the nest. When there were just three eggs left, we noticed ants crawling all over a couple of them. My question is whether we should clean that nest out, now that there aren’t any eggs left due to a potential ant infestation.

    Thank you in advance for your assistance!

  25. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Katie,
    If there are no eggs in the nest and you’re sure the bluebirds are not getting ready to lay a second clutch of eggs in that box, you can clear the nest/ants out. If there are still eggs in the nest, we recommend waiting one month from the date they were laid, or when you first saw them in the nest, to ensure it is not an active nest.
    If you have further questions, please email us at
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  26. Terri says:

    I have 2 birdhouses that chickadees originally made nests in. The wrens came and drove the chickadees away. The wrens set up their nest in one of the houses and now the second house, which clearly has a nest in it has been abandoned by both the wrens and chickadees. Do you think it will be utilized at all this season? Should we clean it or wait until the end of the season? Thanks.

  27. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Terri,
    House Wrens sometimes make a couple of “dummy nests” before deciding on one in which to lay their eggs. You can check the wren nest cup to see if it is lined with grass and feathers – this may indicate the adults is about to begin laying eggs. In any case, we recommend waiting at least a few weeks from the last time you saw an adult near the nest, to be sure the nest is not active. If the nest is not active, then yes, you can clear it out of the box, however if you are not absolutely sure, it’s best to wait until the end of the season.
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  28. François Villeneuve says:

    Hi, I have a chikadee birdhouse in Rimouski, Quebec, Canada. As for my tree swallows, I clean it every spring. But it seems that chikadee does not like it. For the second time in 3 years, they do not use it this spring.

    Is it possible that chikadee prefers to keep the old nest from last year unlike the swallows?

    François Villeneuve

  29. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi François,
    It may be good to look over the recommendations for placement to make sure that your box is in the ideal position for attracting Black-capped Chickadees (scroll down on this page: ). Ideally, even if you clean out the old nest, the chickadees will be more likely to nest again in the box if a layer of wood shavings are placed at the bottom. If you have more questions, please email
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  30. Karen Catallozzi says:

    Hello –
    I have a bluebird house in central Massachusetts that was being used by bluebirds up until a week ago. It looked like they were feeding babies for a few days. I went out of town shortly after that and when I returned, there was no activity and didn’t get to see if the babies left the nest or not. After no activity around the nest for a week, I checked the nest and there are 2 eggs left. Should I wait longer before cleaning out the box or is it OK to clean it now?

  31. Marion says:

    I purchased a second blue bird box recently which has a space of about 2 cms. at the lower front of the box . I asked the gentleman from whom I purchased the box why it was constructed that way and he said it was in order to let any rain run out. The other box is not constructed that way and I’m wondering which is the better of the two . Also is it possible that the new box will be used this late in the spring ?Thanks

  32. Marion says:

    My goodness I can’t believe it , I just checked the new bird box this a.m. and there is a nest in it . I think the bird building the nest is a house wren . Terrific !

  33. John Ruff says:

    Our bluebirds just fledged – today and yesterday. The last one flew out this morning. Bluebirds clean their nests so you will find no shells or fecal matter- just a nest. Last year the nest contained a baby that did not make it but that is a first for our house. Just because the nest is clean does not mean a snake or some other predator intervened. Bluebirds are very good parents.

  34. Judy Cobern says:

    I clean out the nest box after the family leaves the nest..The first time I didn’t … chipmunks took over the box! I don’t have a great love for chipmunks since they dig in my flowerpots & make a mess!

  35. jack says:

    As an amateur Blue watcher (southern California) i believe we successfully fledged one or two, although Not really sure, has anyone experimented with a camera inside the box ?
    Your thoughts are welcome , Thank you

  36. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Jack,
    Nest box cams are a great way to keep tabs on a nest. We have a handy page devoted to information on nest box cams here:
    -Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant

  37. Louise says:

    To the Franklin, NC native: You live in a beautiful part of North Carolina. My grandparents lived there for a few years and I loved visiting that area of my state. I live in Caldwell County and have a beautiful view of the Brushy Mountains from my back yard. Right now, I have dozens of hummingbirds and have finches, wrens, titmice, Cardinals, and other birds coming to my feeders. Nature provides us with much beauty and wonderful music from our native birds. I also have many rabbits this year and have seen the golden eagle on my power lines. This week, I saw a herd of deer, and once I saw a doe with twin fawns.

  38. stuart says:

    Kelly, I live in Northern Virginia, we also have blue birds in a nest box that live there year round so we never clean. The young stay in the box over the winter, but then disappear. They’ve lived there 10+ years. I don’t know if it is the original pair or not. Occasionally a second pair will take up residence in one of our other boxes box they don’t last for whatever reason – once it was a snake but we’ve fixed that.

  39. Dave Potter says:

    A box nearly full of coarse sticks is just about for sure the work of wrens. Several species of wrens [the male] makes several nests from which the female chooses. Cleaning out between nesting [if no eggs or new nest materials] Or in the next spring gets rid of pests of many kinds including squirrels, wasps, bees, snakes, ants etc. Make an effort not to breathe in the “dust” from a used nest…can’t be healthy. Starlings and house sparrows should not be tolerated. Checking wood duck nests in Oregon one spring I found several recently killed song birds [as well as other boxes in use by screetch owls.] I read that these owls cache prey [song birds] in nest boxes and their nesting season tends to coincide with song bird migrations.

  40. Phyllis Geiger says:

    We had a Bluebird family occupy a decorative bird house. The opening was perfect. They face our back room windows. 12 ft away. 2 families of at least 3 per batch we saw fledge. It is amazing. We were blessed to have them. The house is on a tall garden crook. We also have lots of activity around our suet feeder inside of a decorative bird cage with wires 1 1/2 inches apart. The tiny birds can get in and feast. They are Exquisite.

  41. Claudia says:

    It is now almost March 10th. Is it too late to clean out bluebird house? I have a lot of bluebirds currently feeding.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Claudia, Thanks for asking! This depends on what species you’re seeing, and whether you’ve seen individuals around the nest box lately. Mountain Bluebirds don’t start nesting until April, and Western Bluebirds start nesting a little later in April. Eastern Bluebirds however, are nesting now in southern parts of their range. If you normally get Eastern Bluebirds in your boxes, then we recommend making sure there’s no activity near your box before you clean it out. If there are birds going in and out of the box right now, it’ll be best to wait until they’ve fledged. The most important thing is to make sure you don’t disturb an active nest (even if it’s in the middle of being built). Otherwise, feel free to clean away! If you have further questions, please email (we aren’t always able to see every comment on our page).

  42. Heidi from Maine says:

    I live on the mid-coast of Maine and have a 4 Nesting box trail…which has been a great joy over the past 8+ yrs now. I do remove my Bluebird nesting materials after each clutch. It can get pretty gross after 5 babies grow in there (even when the parents remove the poopy pouches…Most years I’ll have 2 pair of adult Bluebirds that will usually have 2 clutches each and I believe that it’s all a part of courtship and teaching the next generations. At the end of the season I will take the nests out, bag and save two of them then in November/December I will stick them back in two Nesting boxes just for a warm, dry shelter…they have used it. Our winters can be unpredictable. They seem to figure it out…if it’s too cold they go to “Florida for the colder months and mud season”…?

  43. Kathy Kelly says:

    I have just moved to northeast Florida from Philadelphia and am delighted to have bluebirds! I purchased a house and within hours a male and 4 females were inspecting it. A nest has been built and I saw the final fluff going in about five days ago. I have not seen the female at the box since, and there are no eggs in the nest. They come when I whistle for their morning blueberries, the male more so, so I know they are around. I read that they will build more than one nest, but what should I do with this unused nest?

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Kathy,
      It’s best to leave the nest as-is. It’s possible the bluebirds will come back, or that another pair will come to nest (bluebirds will sometimes lay eggs in an already-built nest). In any case, our general rule of thumb is to wait 4 weeks or so from the last time you saw the adults hanging around the nest before removing it (giving enough time for egg laying and incubation at least), unless you have confirmed any possible nestlings have fledged. It’s better to err on the safe side, rather than removing a possibly active nest. If you have further questions, please email us at

  44. Judy Turbeville says:

    I live in central Florida and I have a customer and her husband makes and gives away bluebird houses he even put one up fo me at work. I now have encouraged many clients to put them up because of this kind man.
    I do clean my boxes out early spring before the birds come around . One year it was full of bull ants and last year small Cuban tree frogs had moved in. I now have a nest of babies but the mom seems to be doing all the work I haven’t seen the male in days.I have learned to soak the meal worms overnight it tends to make it easier for the poor mom to carry more at a time back to the nest.I just love all the many birds we have esp in the I have lived here all my life and had never seen bluebirds in my area until he put up that first box!

  45. Lydia says:

    I live in Atlanta and last week a black capped chickadee was going into and out of our bluebird house with nesting material. The next day, a pair of bluebirds showed up and they have been visiting the house many times each day. It appears though that they rarely (never?) actually enter the house. Instead, the bluebirds choose to perch at the opening of the house and peek inside. After a few days of the bluebird visits, it appears that the chickadee is no longer coming around. When I checked the nest this afternoon, there is indeed a chickadee nest inside (abandoned, I assume?). I’m wondering if the presence of this nest is discouraging the bluebirds from building their own nest. Should I remove the chickadee’s nest? I know they are a protected species, so I am not sure if I am even allowed to remove their nest. Thank you so much in advance for any advice! I have been waiting for bluebirds for years, and it kills me that they keep coming to the house every day but have not yet started to build their own nest. I want to do everything I can to encourage them to stay!

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi Lydia, you should not remove the chickadee’s nest. They are a protected species, and the nest may not actually be abandoned. Chickadees cover their eggs when they leave the nest, so what looks like an empty nest could actually have eggs in it. If the bluebird is not entering the box, it’s possible that the entrance hole may be too small for them. Some bluebirds are bigger than others, and the 1.5″ entrance hole could possibly exclude some well-fed birds. The best thing you can do to encourage them is to install a second box to give them an opportunity to nest nearby. Best of luck with the NestWatching. –NestWatch Staff

  46. Lydia says:

    Thank you SO much!! Very helpful ?

  47. Joe Bru says:

    Can old nest removed clean inside house rinse lightly old nest and put back. Would that be ok?

  48. Loretta says:

    We are in central Alabama. We have 5 eggs and both parents are feeding the only 1 that hatched,5 days ago. The other eggs have not hatched. Should we just leave them alone and maybe they will soon?
    Thanks for any info

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Loretta, Yes, leave the eggs where they are – it is against federal law to disturb a native bird nest. Eggs of songbirds usually hatch on the same day, but they won’t harm the nestlings if they never hatch. If the eggs are still in the nest after the young fledge, then you can dispose of them in a location that will not attract predators. Let us know if you have further questions at

  49. Sarah says:

    I have a pair of house sparrows (she said in a whisper) that took to my first house in hours after hanging. I watched as the nested, mated, had eggs and then I heard the fledgling(s) and watched the arduous task of feeding them. Well, tragedy struck and I think the chick was eaten by a predator (possibly a starling). Then I watched as both maw & paw hovered, chirping, going in and out of the quiet box. A week later, I have come to know the male and can hear him come around, sit on the various perches near the box, but seems so sad and wistful.. even seemed to be telling the nesting robin not 6 feet away all about it.

    So, my question is—do I clean out the box now? It is between broods, but is it really since it was cut short? I’m over-involved, but would love to do right by him, her, them.

    Thanks you!
    Philadelphia Junior-junior ornithologist

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Sarah, House Sparrows are an invasive species, so are not protected by federal law. Legally, you can remove their nests at any time. However, to answer your questions, yes, only when you observe no breeding activity at a native birds nest, it is legal to move it. If the breeding attempt ends sooner than expected, it has still ended. When dealing with native species, it’s most important to be absolutely sure the breeding attempt has ended before removing a nest. Some birds can take up to 2 weeks to start incubating, and at certain parts of the nesting cycle the nest may appear to be unattended when it is, in fact, attended. So, it’s always best to err on the safe side if you’re not sure. Please feel free to send us additional questions via email at

  50. Jan says:

    To clean or not to clean – that is the question. Unfortunately, I see both yes and no! We live in southern Maryland and have had a set of birds using this box, but haven’t seen them for about a week now. So…do open up the box and throw out what’s there or just leave it alone? Many thanks…

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Jan, Some birds can take some time to build a nest, and may have a period of time between when the nest is built and when they start laying eggs. If you’re ever not sure whether a nest is active, it’s best to let the nest be. Only clean it out if you’re absolutely sure there is no breeding activity.

  51. May says:

    Tree frogs have taken over my blue bird box. Now what?

  52. Andy Mead says:

    Thank youy for this article. It had just the informatkion I was looking for on wrens. And I was even more desighted that you cited Wayne Davis. I lived about a block from him in Lexington, Ky. I was a newspaper repoirter and interviewed him several times. He was a wonderful person who built thousands of bluebird boxes in his basement, researching various designs. When I found he was responsible for mile after mile of bluebird houses along interestate highways in the regon, I called and asked to write an artticle about it. At first he said no, explaining that he would stop his car along the highway to attach the houses and that kind of stoipping was illegal. I promised to gloss over that specific step and he was all in. He was committed to a number of environmental causes, and also was an expert on population growth.

  53. Kathie Hession says:

    Do bluebirds return to the same box that they used the previous year?

  54. Evelyn Mitchell says:

    After a brood has fledged, how long does it take for the blue birds to mate and raise a new brood? Do they raise more than 2 broods per year?

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Evelyn, It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for another pair of birds to start nesting in a box that has just fledged young. It may not be the same bluebird pair, or it could be a different species altogether. Both Eastern and Western Bluebirds can have up to three broods per year, while Mountain Bluebirds typically have 1-2. It’s possible your box could have a first brood and a third brood, but the second brood could nest elsewhere – it’s hard to predict. Please feel free to check out these species on NestWatch or All About Birds for more information, and email us with any questions at

  55. Our Eastern BLuebirds have had two clutches this season. Now, they have returne to our nesting box and put only a small circle of dried pine straw in the bottom of the nesting box. THat is it. The center is just bare and the bottom of the wood box showing. Mama BLuebird has laid one beautiful egg this time. Seems to be it. She sits on it and Dad visits too. THe other two clutches she had were in the usual big nest they always build. I clean it out each time. We have a bird cam in the nesting box this year. So wonderful to watch. MY HUSBAND ADDED SOME DRIED PINE STRAW TODAY IN THE MIDDLE WHERE IT IS BARE. IS THIS OK???? WE CAN REMOVE WHAT HE PUT IN IF IT IS. I JUST HATED TO SEE THAT CUTE EGG LAYING ON WOOD. PLEASE LET US KNOW ASAP. THANKS SO MUCH. DEBBIE AND JEFF SCHEIMAN

  56. Frances Leiter says:

    What precautions should be taken when cleaning out a bird house to prevent becoming infested with bird mites or don’t they affect people?

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Frances, You might be interested in reading our blog post about mites. There are thousands of species of mites, and usually they’re species-specific, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the mites in your nest boxes infesting humans. LEt us know if you have further questions at!

  57. Angela Yaple says:

    I placed my blue bird house in the same location this year as it was last year. I have to take it down when Hurricaine come for a visit. I cleaned out the old nest but did not wash it out. I saw blue birds at the box on the second day it was up but not since then. Do you think it is because I didn’t wash it out? Do you think they are avoiding it? I have had blue birds nesting it the same box for years and I have never washed it out.
    Should I wait a while longer or just go ahead and wash it out? I live in coastal SC and see mat blue bird pairs each season.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Angela, Bluebirds will nest in a box that’s cleaned out and also in boxes that have not been cleaned (renesting on old nests) – we wouldn’t worry about your box this year. The birds might be choosing a different nesting area this year, could be attracted elsewhere by food availability or habitat needs, or they could simply be nearing the end of their lifespans – Eastern Bluebirds tend to live for only 6-7 years. Feel free to wash your nest box if you wish – especially if it’s particularly soiled with fecal matter – but the nest box should be just as attractive to the bluebirds without the wash as well.

  58. Dawn Saunders says:

    Last year put up a bluebird nesting box and had two broods. This year instead of bluebirds, chickadees have built a nest in the box and there are currently five eggs. Is there a way to attract the bluebirds back to the box or discourage the chickadees?

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Dawn, The best thing you can do is put up another box nearby. Keep in mind that Eastern Bluebirds like wide open spaces, and Chickadees prefer more forested area, so placing the boxes in appropriate habitat can help attract each species to its own box. Chickadees also prefer a smaller entrance hole, so when they are done nesting, you may want to put an entrance hole restrictor on one box to encourage bluebirds to nest in the other box. Friendly reminder that once a native bird has laid eggs, its nest is federally protected and cannot be handled nor disturbed.

  59. Miriam E Corneli says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions for excluding earwigs??
    Would Diatomaceous Earth be good to help prevent them? They are very populous in my yard and often seem to get in the nest boxes.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Miriam, we do not recommend diatomaceous earth in nest boxes – even if the nests are not currently active – as even small residues could harm the delicate nestlings. The good news is that earwigs seem to be harmless in bird nests – the birds may even eat them. However, if you wan tto exclude them from your boxes, probably the best way to do so is to follow the same advice for excluding ants. In short, add a metal cone baffle to the pole. Then, caulk the area between the top of the baffle and the pole to prevent the ants from getting in between them and add petroleum jelly to the pole just below the caulk. The baffle keeps the petroleum jelly from washing away in the rain and the petroleum jelly prevents the crawling insects from getting a good grip on the pole.

  60. Pamela says:

    Our bluebirds just fledged today. We were thinking of moving the nest box tomorrow to the backside of our shed facing east due to our summer heat in Texas. It’s on the other side of the shed right now. Would moving it that little bit of a difference deter the pair from coming back to brood again? They had a brood last summer and it was directly in the sun during the hottest time of day. We felt so bad for them but didn’t move it after they fledged and are regretting it now since we are hoping they start their second brood in the next few days. We didn’t know if it would be best just to leave it alone so that they would come back. Or if it would be ok to move it just a little.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Pamela, As long as there is no activity in the nest, it is safe to move a nest box. However, be sure that you do so before the pair (or another pair) return for a second (or third) brood. Note that bluebirds prefer to nest out in open meadows or woodlands in nature, and so they are no stranger to strong sunlight. A nestbox that has proper ventilation and board thickness (3/4″ or so) will properly insulate against extreme temperatures. This being said, if you are particularly worried about them, you can try moving the box to the other side of the shed. There’s no way to predict whether the bluebirds will “find” it this season, but if it’s in the appropriate habitat there’s certainly a good chance. If you have further questions, the best way to reach us is by email at

  61. Karen C says:

    This is our second year having Eastern Bluebirds. We were beyond excited when we saw them last year. We watched the parents build the nest and feed the babies, there were three. We saw the baby female leave the nest. Several months later we partially cleaned out the nest. Our blue birds came back this year. We watched as the parents brought nesting materials. On Good Friday we heard the chirping of numerous babies. Mom and Dad furiously flying back and forth. At some point we will climb a ladder to see how many babies we have. So excited. We will put up more bird houses over the summer. Never thought we would’ve become a bird watchers, but it is very exciting.

  62. Terry Daniels says:

    Eastern bluebird fledglings fledged today and we don’t know if we should clear out the nest so that they can come back for the second brewed since we have a very successful box or if we should leave the nest in for the season.

  63. Kathleen rosen says:

    By accident I changed a bluebird box that had two featherless babies in nest. The box was rotten and had seen bluebirds move to another box a ways away so didn’t think they were in there. Hardly any activity at all so thought it was empty. Once I could see babies the old box was in pieces and no turning back. So I gently layer old box down and quickly put up new box moving whole nest with babies into new box. The new box is raw wood instead of white. Will parent return? Worried. There were many layers of old dirt in old box by the way but no mites. I was amazed at that.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Kathleen, it’s possible they will return, but unfortunately only time will tell. We recommend giving the box some space for a couple of days to give the adults ample time to return.

  64. Celia Ewald says:

    Had been watching the parents feeding their brood and removing the fecal sacs but this past Thursday we had a violent wind and rain storm and the parents were beside themselves flitting and chittering from one tree to the other and didn’t tend to the babies.
    My concern was that the rain had entered the birdhouse and perhaps drowned them. I was at a loss to help. The next day I found the two babies, fully feathered, dead on the ground outside the house. I buried them today. I’m thinking of cleaning the birdhouse of the nest. What do you think? Wilmington, N.C.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Celia,
      If the young were found on the ground, this sounds more like a predator attack. Please refer to our Troubleshooting guide for possible causes and solutions. If you know there are no eggs or young in the nest, then it is legal to remove the nest from the box (otherwise the nest and its contents are federally protected). You may also be interested in checking out our Features of a Good Birdhouse guide and compare it against your box. Note the drainage holes in the floor of a nest box that can help keep the nestlings warm and dry. If you have further questions, please email – the comment sections on our website are not monitored regularly.

  65. Celia Ewald says:

    P.S. Bluebirds. Sorry.

  66. Doris says:

    I will continue to clean the nesting boxes and bird feeders. I will continue to use common sense and not overthink it. The birds in town have the choice to use my nesting boxes or not. I hope they continue to do so. And I will continue to enjoy birdwatching. My Dad had about 8 boxes spaced apart along his long country lane. There were always a mixture of birds nesting every year. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and Sparrows. He cleaned the boxes every year and put fresh sawdust in them after cleaning. He was very successful.

  67. Brad says:

    My bluebird family recently fledged. Three birds all left the nest and are 3 days out. We live in Charleston, South Carolina on the beach.

    The male and female parents are still in the neighborhood feeding the fledglings. My mother is insistent on removing the nest. What is the best course of action?

    My general bias would be “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’
    My mother believes it is better to remove the nest and stimulate the parent birds to gather new nesting materials.

    What should we do?


    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Brad, Bluebirds will nest in empty boxes and they will re-use old nests. We recommend waiting to clean boxes out at the end of the breeding season in fall, but if the box is particularly soiled with fecal matter, you may want to clean it out. The decision is up to the monitor, but it is imperative that there is no breeding activity in the box when it is cleaned out. Be sure to only use mild detergent, if at all, and to rinse the box thoroughly, and let it dry completely, before re-mounting. However if you can tell a new nest is starting or eggs are being laid, it’s best to let it be. If you have further questions, please email – the comment sections on our website are not monitored regularly.

  68. Pamela says:

    Our bluebirds just fledged on 4/8. The parents came back with 4 young blues. It was very exciting. They had started building a new nest last week and it looked as though she started sitting on her eggs yesterday. This morning we saw the male alive with his young crew and then an hour later I found him dead in the garden. We actually cried over it. We so enjoyed feeding them and watching them every day. We looked in the nest box and found 4 eggs. We were concerned about her continuing to be able to sit on them and raise herself. About 2 hours later we saw another ma!e approach the nest and checking it out and eventually went inside and she was near by. He then went next to her and started waving one of his wings. We were encouraged that he would pair with her. He has been around and even went into the nest again and she went in after him and has been sitting in there for at times on her eggs. My question is i know the the last two broods they had the male would feed her while she was in there and also the young, what r the odds that he will take over with her when it’s further along in the process? He has already been chasing the other youngsters away so we probably won’t see them anymore which is sad enough, we just pray that he steps up and take his place. Has this happened before. Will he help her?

  69. Bill Hughes says:

    HI, I have had bluebirds nest and mate the last few years only to leave after the eggs are laid. The male was here Friday ,May 1, at the entrance of the box a lot, and has not come back yet, May 4. I watched and thought I saw the female in the box, but she may not have been, on Sat 2nd, but she is gone and there are 5 eggs in the nest. There are many, many ants, with larvae. Is there anything I should do to clean the box?

    Thank you

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Bill,
      Any time you find a nest that appears to have been abandoned, we recommend waiting at least 4 weeks before taking any action. Some birds’ eggs are viable for up to two weeks, and just in case the birds are being sneaky, we wait another two weeks to make sure they aren’t incubating when we’re not looking. It is against federal law to handle (or remove) a wild bird’s nest or its contents, so it’s important to be 100% sure the nest is abandoned before taking action. In the meantime, we recommend you check out our Features of a Good Birdhouse guide, and check the recommendations against your box. If the box is on a pole, we also have suggestion on how to keep ants out on this page (it’s under “fire ants” but the technique should work for any small insect that reaches the box by crawling up the pole). If you have further questions, please email – the comment sections on our website are not as easily monitored.

  70. Young says:

    We live in the panhandle of Florida. We had our first brood of bluebirds fledge the weekend before Easter. Since then, the male and female have been actively making a new nest until about a week ago. We haven’t seen the female since and the male spends all day, every day in our yard chirping and calling for the female. We have since seen the four fledglings and daddy, but haven’t seen momma in quite some time. The male goes in and out of the bluebird house multiple times daily and chirps loudly on top. We are just wondering if we need to remove the already prepared nest in case something happened to his former mate and he is trying to attract another female? While he has a beautiful voice, it really is sad to watch and listen him call out. Any suggestions on what we should do, if anything? Thank you!!

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi, Bluebirds will readily re-use old nests, and also don’t mind building a new one from scratch, so as we stated in this article, it’s up to you if you wish to clean the box out. Reminder that you should check to be certain there is no breeding activity if you choose to clean it out. Otherwise, it may just take some time before another clutch is laid. If the female is no longer present, the male may simply be trying to attract a new mate.

  71. Kathleen rosen says:

    I think this is site I posted about a month ago I changed a rotten blue bird house and found two babies inside and had to transfer them and nest to new box as house was destroyed. Also thought blue birds had left it for another box… have many. Two days later I opened front of box as could not stand thought of baby birds dieing. Hallelujah a mother chickadee was on the nest and as surprised as I was. So all turned out all right and now I know why chickadees were fussing the whole time I changed that box. Sorry to worry you and thought you might want to know. Thx for your help…. kathleen

  72. Catherine says:

    I live in California. Western blue bird have lay eggs at the bird house and a pole system purchased specially for them. However, one morning we found out the bird house and pole fell down on the floor and the eggs are broken. Probably the pole is not very stable, i have seen a little tilt a few days before it falls. I am so sad and I wonder if the blue bird will nest again in my yard. I actually have two western bluebird nest. I see the male checking on both right after the eggs cracked. They still come to my house daily for mealworms but I don’t see male checking on the bird nest anymore since. I also wonder if they think my husband is the predator that take away their eggs because my husband is the one who clean the nest box and they were looking at it. He said he saw one egg almost have the shape of the baby. So sad. How soon can they have another broom.

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Catherine, it’s hard to know whether the bluebirds will return to this box or not – but the best thing you can do is replace your pole (and be sure it is as study as can be). The birds may start nesting again within a week or two – either in the box, or elsewhere nearby.

  73. Rich says:

    Because of neighboring woodlands on 3 sides of our lot and some trees in our yard, we understand that we have marginal bluebird habitat, but we’ve kept trying. A few days ago we re-located a box about 25′ in from a lightly traveled neighborhood street with the box opening facing East-Southeast. A matter of hours later a male appeared, inspected inside and outside, and then left and then returned for a re-check. After another check, he then appeared with a female who seemed enthusiastic in that she stayed and looked inside and outside the box for several minutes, but then a FedEx truck pulled down our driveway and she was gone. She made another return a little later, but there again was some road noise.

    The next day (30 May) our male made a few appearances, singing his little heart out on the nest box roof, but no female arrived. So, does this mean that the female has rejected the site or perhaps found a more appealing male, or is there a possibility she is still considering the location? How long does this decision process go on, and can the female be persuaded or does she give a pretty quick yes or no and that is it? Are there any ways we might tweak our box presentation? We’ve tried to keep as much open space in front of the nest box as we can. We also have our feeder in the front yard, but it’s probably 60′ from the nest box. There is a diverse array of birds that gather at our feeder. Thanks for any suggestions you can give us to increase the appeal of our nest box.

  74. Kathleen Porter says:

    Hi Deb,

    I know your comment was some time ago, but in case you’re still a member, I wanted to recommend that after disinfecting with bleach, you wash the box again with soap and water. I’m a vet tech and it is standard procedure to wash with soap and water before disinfecting, follow the dilution and time requirements listed on the bleach bottle, then wash the item again with soap and water. Most disinfectants are inactivated by what is called “organic debris”. Basically, this means they become less effective in the presence of skin cells, hair, feathers, excrement, etc. This is the reason for washing beforehand. Disinfectants are also less effective on porous surfaces like a nestbox. But I also still use a bleach dilution every year before nesting season. I wouldn’t suggest dunking or soaking the nestbox (great idea for birdfeeders, though). Since the wood is porous, this allows a lot of bleach to soak into the wood, making it difficult to remove the smell. Even light fumes can irritate birds. I simply spray the box on all sides with the bleach dilution. The washing afterwards is important to help wash and dilute the bleach, and therefore it’s remaining film on the surface and smell.

    Happy Nestwatching!


  75. Joan duszka says:

    I did not know bluebirds excavated nesting sites. We had decided to knock down a burned stump..this thing was totally charred about 4 ft tall. In very bare spot in a field. As we prepared to knockit over i went around to the other side and saw that something has been pecking test holes And found a satisfactory site and picked a hole about the size of a baseball, and decided to leave it to see,what was doing the home build. Two days later a very deep hole6-7 “ deep. And one very blue egg, next day two eggs, 3+4 daysaw two more eggs and we saw a blurbird flying away. Couple of weeks ago ugliest babies I have ever seen, just two, next day one more and day after that another. Four very homely babies. We have been watching as they feather out, what makes this so interesting is the stump is totally burnt ,thick char all inside is soft shreddy old wood core . I had no idea blue birds could do this. And why they chose that awful stump is beyond me. We wil clean it out when is gets cold and hope they come back next spring.

  76. Jack says:

    ?? All these comments and responses puzzle me. Can’t you just move your nest box, not cleaned out (mine hangs from a tree limb) into the garage in the Winter and put it back out early Spring?

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Jack, You can indeed store a box over winter if you wish, but we still recommend cleaning it out at least once per year. The benefits of cleaning the box of nesting material can make the box cleaner for birds (sans mites, insects, fecal matter, etc.), allows for safer nest building (if nests are continually built up, they become easier for predators to access from the entrance hole), and refreshes the box in a way that will attract more birds (some species won’t nest in a box that has nesting material in it already). It can also help make the box last longer – when nesting material is left in the box it slow decomposes, which can lead to rot in the wood and a structurally unsound box. If you have further questions, please feel free to email us at

  77. This is my second year to provide a nest box and the couple had 4 eggs, another 4 eggs at the second brooding. My question is there were a lager size of bluebird families come to the front yard feeder box. Their baby birds are as large as parents with gray dotted chest and waiting to be fed on top of feeder house or at the top of gutter area. I never seen this big size of blue birds before. Is it kind of new phenomenon? I live in Carlisle Pennsylvania, Etsuko

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Etsuko, young songbirds are typically adult-sized at the time of fledging, though some feathers may not be fully grown-in. Sometimes the young are even heavier than the parents, who have been expending a lot of their energy to make sure the nestlings were fed! If you have further questions, please email us at

  78. Kim says:

    I lived in Georgia for years and always had at least three and sometimes four nests each summer. We moved to Arkansas a couple of years ago. Last summer I had three successful nests. This summer I had one with five eggs and five successful fledglings. After that, a nest was built, but no eggs laid. And now I’ve not even seen a bluebird in my yard for several weeks. My daughter in Nashville, also only had one nest this year. We are blaming Covid19. 😉 Where have the bluebirds gone?

  79. Emily says:

    We have had a bluebird house and bluebirds nesting in for the past 6 years. Some years the male has chosen a window and flown against it repeatedly for a period of time (presumably because he thinks he sees a rival in his territory). Generally this behavior lasts a few weeks at most, especially if we hang a aluminum pie plate in the window. However, this year we have a male bluebird who has continuously flapped against one or more of our windows since March. He sits on the sill outside and then flies up against the window. If someone approaches the window he flies away, but a short time later is back again. The only time he has temporarily abandoned this behavior is when he is really busy feeding chicks. We have had 3 successive nestings this year. The last ones fledged 6 days ago, and he is back at the window every morning. Is this atypical bluebird behavior or within the normal range?

  80. Mary Roberts says:

    I have been reading comments from bird lovers at this site for about a year. For your information, I live in West Central Iowa, in a very small rural town between farms. I love wild birds, but very discouraged by watching birds here. There were very few wild birds in this little town, and in the 20 years that we have lived here, I have fed birds and counted them. The first ten years the wild birds in our little town expanded in number, and visited the bath and feeders often. After a bout 10 more years, the birds diminished in large numbers and now the common wild birds and even migrators have diminished rapidly and now we have only just a few left. Most people who live here use y ard and garden insect sprays and done everything that they know to get rid of wild seeds, berries, and other natural foods for birds because they think that it is helping their crops. Even the state biird, the American Goldfinch, is almost all gone. and our Meadowlarks are gone completely.

    Please comment.

  81. Bernadette Hill says:

    I will be moving from North Georgia to Amelia Island this spring. I have a eastern bluebird nest that is alway busy in the spring. Shout I leave the nest? Do they have bluebirds in Amelia Island Florida?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Bernadette, If the bird is already nesting, it is against federal law to move the nest and/or box containing the nest, but if no nesting activity has occurred yet, feel free to take it down and bring it with you to the island. Bluebirds often lay many broods per year, and they have been regularly reported on Amelia Island.

  82. Cindy Robinson says:

    I’m in Northern California. I have a pair of Oak Titmice who have taken up residence in a nesting box that was attached to my house when I bought it. I have no idea what was inside. The birds have been there a few weeks. I was thinking they must have eggs but both birds leave together for food during the day. I’ve put up a feeder with safflower seed nearby which they are enjoying. Today I noticed lots of small flies buzzing a few feet away. Could these be blowflies? Is there anything I can or should do? I’m also concerned about a male house sparrow who likes to hang around. I took down the nesting box he was claiming but he still shows up repeatedly and hangs out near the titmouse nesting box. I’ve ordered a predator guard of 1-1/8″ which I understand the titmice can still get through but a house sparrow cannot.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Cindy, The flies you saw likely weren’t blowflies. In any case, it’s best to simply give the birdhouse some space. It’s better to use 1 1/4″ hole for all titmouse species – if you add a smaller hole they may not be able to fit inside. Instead, I suggest you read this webpage on managing invasive species. Leaving the other box up for the House Sparrow may actually help keep it away from the titmouse box. The House Sparrow is looking for a place to nest, so that’s why it’s now looking to overtake the next best cavity. If you re-install your other nest box, it may encourage the House Sparrow to nest there again and therefore it would be distracted from usurping any native species nests. Then, if you wish to manage the House Sparrow nest (for example, read the “Incubation Fake-Out” section of the managing invasive species page I linked above) you’re welcome to do so. Finally, I also recommend reading over our Code of Conduct for tips on how best to monitor the titmouse box to reduce disturbance.

  83. KestrelCamMan says:

    I’ve had an oversized (I used 1x12s instead of 1x10s for construction) American Kestrel / Western Screech Owl nestbox with an IP camera in use for 11 years and religiously clean and scrub it early every year. I replace the pine shaving nesting material with a new, pre-sifted (to remove fines) batch that has been heated to 350° in the oven to ensure that there are no volatiles. This is mainly done so that I start off each nesting season with a clean photo environment to reduce the amount of dust which would be kicked up by the kids and wind up on the camera’s dome. The amount of dust in old nesting material is off the charts.

    Interesting to note is that as soon as this is done, the female Western Screech Owl celebrates by burrowing into the fresh nesting material and flipping it into the air as she settles in for the new nesting season. This happens every year and only with the new, clean material. This year, she actually patiently waited in the tree until I finished at 10:30 at night, and returned before I had even taken away my ladder and packed away all my stuff. As of today, she’s cooking her 5 egg omelette; hatching will be about April 15th.

  84. Seattle says:

    Some native bumblebees build nests in old bird nests in cavities, including boxes, and are arguably worth leaving in place.

  85. Joe says:

    In 2020 I ran an experiment. One of my boxes had a successful nesting attempt by House Wrens. I decided not to remove all the nesting material to see if the House Wrens would return. House Wrens keep a pretty tidy nest with no evidence of accumulated fecal matter. One week after the nestlings had fledged, the House Wrens were back in the nest laying another clutch of eggs. Tree Swallows leave too messy a nest behind so a clean out is necessary.

  86. Hmw says:

    In the north Carolina study how did they know 71% of birds preferred a clean box if they only had 50 of 110 boxes cleaned out? I haven’t read the study so I apologize if I’m missing something obvious.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi, In this study, there were actually 100 pairs of boxes. Of those pairs, only the ones in which at least one box produced a successful nest (at least one young fledged) were included in the cleaned/not cleaned part of the study (not all boxes were successful). Then, the researchers removed the old nest materials from half of those successful pairs (those would be the “cleaned” boxes). Here is a relevant excerpt: “When adults were forced to chose between a soiled but successful nestbox and an unused nest site of equal quality, 71% of bluebirds chose to move to the unused box (of 45 bluebird pairs, 32 pairs switched to the unused box; 13 reused the soiled nest).” I hope this helps!

      • HMW says:

        Got it. The above article only said 100 boxes I think. So because of this and other studies I guess we still have the questions of cleaning or not cleaning. Does this question only apply to cleaning at the end of the season or between broods during the breeding season as well? Are nest ever cleaned out between broods? I have a box full of bluebirds that will fledge in a week or so. We are in Louisiana.

        • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

          You can clean a box between broods if you like, but it’s certainly not necessary. Additionally, it’s important to make absolutely sure that there is no breeding activity in the box if and when you do so. For this reason, and because most bluebirds don’t mind reusing their nest, many people skip cleaning out the box during the breeding season. Regardless of how you treat the box then, it’s indeed best to clean them out at the end of the year (in fall), after the breeding season is over. Please send any further questions to – these comment sections are not regularly monitored.

  87. Linda H Brune says:

    I collected and laid pinestraw on the ground under my bluebird box. I observed them building their nest in their house. I thougt it made it easier for them rather than having to fly next door to get it as they did last yeat

  88. John Johnck says:

    Northern Flicker nest box. Mine is 35 ft on a tree in Tahoe.
    Do I have to clean the box each year. I had two successful fledgling in two years. Now nothing for last tree years

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi John, We recommend cleaning out boxes at least once per year, usually in the fall or early spring when there is no chance of breeding activity in the box. Flickers also like to “excavate” their own cavity, so for this species, we also recommend stuffing the box to the brim with wood chips each year – this can be done just after it’s cleaned out. You can find more preferences of Northern Flickers here. Please let us know if you have more questions at – these comment sections are not regularly monitored.

  89. J Winn says:

    My bluebird house has two levels with one hole on each of the four sides – so eight nesting cavities to choose from. I placed it in open area as told, but it’s not shaded. It’s painted white, with copper, peaked roof.

    I’ve read the nest can get too hot in full sun. A pair of Bluebirds have been using it for at least 2 weeks, and show no sign of problems. But can this hurt the chicks? Should I drill small ventilation holes in the walls for extra air?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi J, Because you have birds nesting the box currently, we do not recommend making any adjustments to the box just yet. It’s best to check a nest box only once every 3-4 days, and to keep those visits less than a minute long, and work on the nest box often exceeds those limits. The risk would be in scaring the adults from the nest and possible nest abandonment. While this nest is progressing, I encourage you to check out our Features of a Good Birdhouse infographic, which has general tips on how to provide the best nest box for birds. We recommend using untreated, unpainted wood, that is at least 3/4″ thick for proper insulation against most temperatures. The box you have won’t necessarily cause the bluebird nest to fail, but if the walls of your box are thinner, and combined with the metal top, it’s hard to predict how it will go in temperatures that exceed 90 degrees.
      The tips on that page linked above are recommended in mind with providing the birds with a nesting spot that mimics a natural cavity as best as it can. If you decide you’d like to go with a different design in the future, please also feel free to view our construction plans for Eastern Bluebird boxes here.
      Note also that bluebirds do not nest in colonies, so unfortunately this nest box design you have with 8 cavities is only ever going to host one bluebird pair at a time. Most common songbird species need a good bit of distance between their nest and the nest of another pair of the same species (Eastern Bluebirds have a minimum spacing of 300 feet). The exceptions are colony nesters, like Purple Martins, and some invasive species that tend to nest near to one another, such as European Starlings and House Sparrows. Please email with any further questions – these comment sections are not monitored regularly.

  90. Barbara Lutz says:

    We live in Eastern NC and have 2 active bluebird nesting boxes in our backyard. One is outside my office window, so I have watched the nesting activity almost daily — new broods started in late January. I realized today that I had not seen the birds going in and out of the box for a few days (maybe longer) and so I decided to check the box. To my deep sadness, I found a dead parent bird with 4 unhatched eggs. I am so sad and want to be sure there is nothing that I could have done to prevent this. I have no idea what killed the parent she was sitting on the nest. We do have 2 feeders nearby that I keep stocked with food. We have not seen any other dead birds (we typically have nesting cardinals in the front yard) and our other box (on the other side of the back yard) has 4 unhatched eggs in it — I would really appreciate any help/advice that you could provide. I would hate for this to happen again.
    I am heartbroken about this.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Barbara, I’m sorry to hear. Unfortunately, nest failure is quite common in birds and sometimes unavoidable. I recommend reading our FAQ about this subject to learn more about what could have happened to your nest.

  91. L says:


    I know you recommend not encouraging house sparrows. But I happen to like them.
    They are busy making nests in my birdhouses. All have metal protectors on the entrances (1 1/2 inch) except one birdhouse that is somewhat fragile but quite active. The sparrows have been there 10 years. Year round.

    Would disturb the birds if I quickly put a metal protector on the house? Before I put the metal protectors on the other houses, I noted a couple of squirrels enlarging the entrance and getting in. Luckily there were no eggs in there.

    Should I leave the old birdhouses alone and let them fall down on their own or should I take them down in the fall.

    Also, it seems like they clean the birdhouses themselves, only my 2 new birdhouses have a door that I could go in and clean out in the fall, but is this necessary?


    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hello, We recommend cleaning out nest boxes at least once a year, but cleaning out between broods is up to you. Cleaning out is not necessary at all, but as the article states above, it’s a good practice to help keep the nest box clean and ready for future broods. As for making changes to a nest box while it is in use, we generally discourage this so as to help reduce disturbance to the nest, especially for nests of native bird species. House Sparrows are non-native and invasive in North America, outcompeting other birds for nesting space – you can learn more about them here.

  92. Stephanie says:

    What do you do if you suspect a nest has been abandoned prematurely? (E.g. one lone egg in nest over a couple nest checks, or rotten-smell emanating from clutch of eggs). Should you remove lone egg and/or nest? Should you attempt to sniff out bad egg and remove it before it can rupture onto the viable eggs?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Stephanie, Please read this FAQ for details on what to do if you think a nest is abandoned. In short, do not interfere with nests while there are still active eggs/young -it’s perfectly normal if an egg does not hatch. If you haven’t seen the adults around, wait at least four weeks from the last day you saw an adult at the nest before taking any action – more details in the FAQ.

  93. Jessica wiliam says:

    So interesting. The world of birds have so many wonderful things that I want to discover. At home, I also have a bird. It look so beautiful. Hope you write more so I can know more about them to take care them better.

  94. Well, some birds seek shelter under roof eaves, trees, bushes, and other objects that provide them protection from raindrops and flying debris.

  95. Lisa del Rio says:

    We have a bluebird box that was being used when a snake got in and ate whatever was in there. We killed the snake and cleaned out the box with bleach in the hopes of removing the snake scent. It has now been vacant about 18 months since being cleaned out. The bluebirds swarm the box daily, going to the opening, going in and perching all around and on the box. Four to six birds do this at least 2x daily but they have not nested. Can you please advise as to how to attract them to build in my box?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Lisa, Sometimes when a predator attack occurs, the birds will “remember” that spot as a place that is unsafe to nest. I wouldn’t be concerned about the scent of a predator – the box is more likely to attract birds if it is moved to a different location after a successful predator attack. Adding predator guards is of course also helpful – if you’re interested in moving the nest box to a pole (rather than a tree) please check out this page which offers an instructional PDF on how to install a nest box pole. I’d also recommend going over the nest box preferences listed out on this page for Eastern Bluebirds.

  96. kate gessert says:

    In western Oregon, yellow jacket wasps nest in nesting boxes and often overwinter. It’s essential to clean out nesting boxes so birds aren’t stung to death by yellow jackets the next season or if birds are sheltering in nesting boxes in cold winter weather.
    It worries me that so many “cute”nesting boxes are sold that have no way to open and clean them.

  97. Lynne says:

    Will Cardinals eat Safflower Bird Seed recimmended to keep squirrels our if feeders?

  98. Laura says:

    If bluebirds started nesting on top of old nest before I could remove it(within a few days), can I remove bottom nest after eggs are laid? I worry they will be too close to the opening.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Laura, you do not need to do anything with the nest – let the birds nest as normal, and once the nesting attempt is over (young have fledged) you can clean out the box. Once nests are in active use, they are federally protected and should not be touched.

  99. CJ says:

    I have a nestbox on an oak tree in my back yard. Eastern Bluebirds have successfully nested and fledged young in 2021 and 2022. Last year, they nested again after their first brood fledged. I marked the date when I saw them start feeding the new babies. I saw the babies looking out as it neared time to fledge. Then, I woke up one morning and saw no activity, so I thought they had fledged. After 3 weeks and no sight of the new fledglings among the birds at my mealworm feeders, I figured something happened to them. The parents were already nesting again before I had a chance to clean out the box. The same thing happened again. No babies fledged. I cleaned out the nesting material over the winter, and the bluebirds are back, but they haven’t gone near that nestbox. Is there anything I can do?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi CJ, Are you sure the young did not fledge? If deceased young were not found in the nest when you cleaned it out, they likely fledged and may have simply spent their time in another area (rather than your backyard). In any case, I would first advise reading our FAQ on why birds nests can fail – there are a multitude of ways. You can also check out our Troubleshooting Guide which also lists common outcomes for nests and what you can do to help prevent it from happening in the future.

  100. Lauren says:

    This is my first time monitoring a nest box. I had a pair of Eastern bluebirds nest and all seemed to be going well. There were two feathered hatchlings the last time I checked. A couple of days later, I noticed the house sparrows chasing the bluebirds and landing on the nest box, and even going in. When I checked the nest, there were two eggs, but no babies. The eggs may have been the two infertile ones from the bluebird’s first clutch, but I’m not sure.
    After that, the bluebirds stayed away and the sparrows took over. They’ve definitely hatched some babies at this point, I can hear them. I think they’re about ready to fledge, and I’ve been hearing my bluebirds again.
    I never saw the bluebirds fledge, though. They were just gone. I didn’t see any feathers or anything on the ground, but I still don’t know if the sparrows killed them. I was wondering if cleaning out the nest after the sparrows leave will encourage the bluebirds to come back.

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Lauren, It’s unfortunately likely that the House Sparrows killed the nestlings in the nest – this is a common occurrence when House Sparrows attempt to usurp other species from nest boxes. Cleaning out the nest box is a good idea, though it’s hard to say whether the bluebirds will nest again. Sometimes, if a bird is scared off by a predator or another threat, they may not return to that same spot again. You may be interested in our Managing Invasive Species page, which lists some options for dealing with House Sparrows.

  101. Susie says:

    Hi! Would the female rebuild the nest in the box, then leave it to build another elsewhere? I cleaned mine out after the babies fledged, and she did rebuild in there . But I haven’t seen her in several days, maybe even a week. I am afraid something has happened to her. I do see Dad taking good care of the babies, but I wonder if I should remove her new nest, or will a new female use it?

    • Holly Grant, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Susie, It’s best to leave things be for now – some birds will take a small break between building the nest and laying eggs. Give it a few weeks more. If she doesn’t return, then it’s still fine to leave the nest, as another bird may choose to use it.

  102. david says:

    I see what you’re saying about not cleaning, but as far as my nest boxes for blue birds have gone over the years, I don’t see how I can NOT clean it out. I clean it out after each brood. Every time I’ve checked after brood as left the box is absolutely disgusting. There is all kinds of dust and debris flying around and the walls are caked with poop, I mean it’s everywhere. I usually remove the nest and then spray it out with my high pressure hose. If it’s super bad I’ll use some soap or something. I’ve never had an issue with them not building a nest immediately after butting it back up. But this is the pair in my yard that have been around me for a least a couple years, they know me well.

  103. Keven says:

    I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and put up a nesting box for bluebirds last year and got bluebirds, woohoo! I was going to clean out the nest when they flew south but they never left. So I’m not sure whether or not to clean it out now or leave it alone. Any ideas?

    • Holly Grant, NestWatch Staff says:

      Hi Keven, bluebirds will sometimes return to a box in the fall and winter to roost, but they are not nesting during this time of year. It’s up to you if you’d like to clean the box out, but we typically recommend cleaning it out at least once per year. In the fall is ideal, after nesting season is over, but some monitors wait to clean boxes out until the following spring, just before new nests are built. If you go with the latter option, just be extra sure that the nests you’re cleaning out aren’t new, and that they do not contain any live eggs or young.

  104. Estelle Hileman says:

    Live in south Louisiana and have Eastern Bluebirds nesting in a regular – not specifically bluebird – birdhouse. It’s a new house situated above several feeders that other species of small birds use regularly, doesn’t seem to bother the bluebirds at all. We were debating whether to clean the house next winter but after reading all the comments about red ants, mites and squatters we’ll clean but unsure what to use. Suggestions? Thanks.

  105. Donna P says:

    We had a pair of bluebirds take up residence and nest in one of our boxes. There were six eggs in the nest. We went away on vacation and came home to the lid being off of the nest. Will the birds abandon the nest if this happens?

    • Holly Grant, NestWatch Staff says:

      Hi Donna, Are the eggs still inside of the nest box? If the lid has been removed, it’s possible this was done by a predator, who may have scared the adults away. However, birds can be sneaky and it’s also possible that they’re tending to the box when you’re not looking. In any case, it’s best to let things continue on naturally – if you think the nest has been abandoned, our advice is to wait about four weeks before taking any action.

  106. Donna P says:

    Previous comment should’ve read that the lid had come off of the box. The parents were hanging around the yard, but we didn’t see mom come out of the box when we went to check on the nest.

  107. Deborah Schumacher says:

    I have a gourd nest hanging on a pole in my backyard. For the last two yrs little families have been raised there. This yr we were happy to see them return & my husband discovered the eggs in the nest. Upon hatching, we would see one little one with the mom & then one morning there was one baby hanging outside the nest like he has been put there while cleaning and the parents left. Do you think the baby might have been born dead?

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology