Should You Clean Your Birdhouse?

Everyone loves a birdhouse and they have become so popular! A place of respite for birds of all kinds and something beautiful for us to look at at the same time. The birds literally move in and make it their own. They build a nest inside, bring new little birds into the world and, at the end of nesting season, they move out, usually never to return to the same birdhouse again. So when this happens what do you need to do to the bird house? Should you clean it out? Or just let it be?

Do you need to clean a birdhouse? Yes, in most cases it is recommended that you clean your birdhouses. However, there some species of birds that prefer a dirty birdhouse to a clean one. So it all depends on the species of bird you are trying to attract to occupy the birdhouse.

There are a few things to consider and tips on how, when, and if you should clean out your birdhouse. Lets dig into those details so you can make an educated decision on if cleaning your birdhouse is the right decision for you or not.

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To Clean Or Not To Clean

You would think you would want to clean a birdhouse every year after it’s been used, right? This is actually not the case. There are some instances where you do not want to clean the birdhouse.

A research team in North Carolina did a study to see if humans cleaning out the nesting space made a difference to the bluebirds. They built 100 nest boxes, cleaning out half of them after the nesting season. About 71% of the bluebirds chose to move to a clean box, possibly to avoid the presence of ectoparasites. However, in a study in Kentucky, they found the opposite to be true. The Eastern bluebirds preferred the spaces with the old nests in them. Here, parasitic wasps kill blowfly pupae over the winter, and removing the nest material could compromise this natural occurrence. As you can see, there is no obvious answer to the question of whether or not to clean out your birdhouse.

The species of bird you are hoping to attract can depend on whether you clean out the birdhouse or not. House Wrens will handle cleaning out the house on their own, so no worries if this is the kind of birds you enjoy.

Bluebirds generally do not clear out the old nest materials in a birdhouse, they actually build a new nest over the old material. This can become a problem when the material builds up too high for the birdhouse and is too close to the opening. This makes it vulnerable to predators. 

Tips For Cleaning Your Birdhouse

If you do decide to clean out your birdhouse, here are a few helpful hints on how to go about it. 

  • Start out by opening up your birdhouse. Houses with swinging sides, hinged roofs, or removable fronts are the easiest to clean. 
  • Clean out all of the old nesting materials and any other debris. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when you do this because there could be bacteria and mites among the debris. You should also dispose of the debris in a plastic bag so that the parasites do not spread. You can also compost this.
  • Check the house on the inside and outside for mold or mildew. If you find any, you will want to take care of this by cleaning it with either an unscented dish soap or a diluted bleach solution of 9:1 water to bleach. This will keep the mold from spreading and permanently staining the birdhouse. Even if you don’t find any mold or mildew, this is a good idea because it will help prevent it in the future, and it will get rid of any harmful bacteria or parasites that may be present. Be sure to get every nook and cranny, including the entrance hole. 
  • When finished, rinse very well, making sure every ounce of bleach has been removed and there are no remaining chemicals to harm the birds.
  • Set out in the sun for several hours to break down any chlorine and you can be sure there is no moisture to attract mold and mildew.
  • Now you need to inspect the whole house for any damage. A small crack doesn’t mean you have to toss the birdhouse. It can be repaired by filling with a wood sealant. This will help prevent precipitation from getting into the birdhouse. Check out that any screws are tightened that may have come loose. Be sure there are no splinters or anything else that can harm the birds. 
  • Check to be sure the ventilation and drainage holes are open and not plugged by debris. Drill additional holes if needed.

When Should You Clean Your Birdhouse?

The best time to clean out your birdhouse is after the nesting birds have left the house and no longer return. For some birds, cleaning out once after breeding season is sufficient. In some regions however, birds may raise multiple broods and the house can be cleaned between each new family. This will encourage more families to nest in your birdhouse. You will also want to clean the post or hook your birdhouse is hanging on to be sure there is no bacteria or other dangers on it. 

Buy birdhouses that have hinged roofs or movable panels to make them easier to clean. Leave your birdhouse up for roosting in the winter and clean them again for spring roosting. 

Final Thoughts

Cleaning out your birdhouse is a good idea if you want to be sure it is free from bacteria, mold, mildew, mites or any other harmful things. It’s a good idea to clean your birdhouse after each breeding season so birds will continue to use it. But in the end, depending on what type of species you are trying to attract, it may be unnecessary to clean out the birdhouse.

Related Questions

What attracts birds to birdhouses? Black oil sunflower seeds will attract birds to your birdhouse, as well as specialized bird food such as suet for woodpeckers or mealworms for bluebirds.

Should you put anything inside a birdhouse? If a birdhouse is specifically for owls or woodpeckers, a layer of sawdust or fine wood chips about an inch thick can be put in the house, but you will need to be sure it is coarse enough not to cause breathing issues or suffocation problems for small birds.

What colors attract birds to birdhouses? Birds like red, yellow, orange and white for a birdhouse. Bird feeders can be fuchsia, pink or purple. 

Why won’t birds go to my birdhouse? An inappropriate entrance hole can allow larger birds into the birdhouse. This will crowd out any other birds. Larger birds may even kill hatchlings or brooding adults. You will want to keep the entrance hole a proper size as follows:

SpeciesEntrance Hole SizeEntrance Height
Bluebird1.5″ (3.8 cm)6″ (15 cm)
Chickadee1.25″ (3.2 cm)6″ (15 cm)
Flicker2.5″ (6.35 cm)4″ (10 cm)
House Finch2″ (5.1 cm)4″ (10 cm)

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