Once the nesting season is over, any bird box that you own needs to be properly cleaned to make sure that it is inviting enough for its next occupant. This will also allow you to look out for any maintenance issues that need to be addressed.

If you are new to nest box upkeep, here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to make the most of these avian hideaways and ensure that you get more winged visitors to your garden each year.

Cleaning Nest Boxes

First and foremost, you need to be certain that your box is no longer in active use. If you have bird box cameras installed this will, of course, be simple. If not, keep an eye on the box and look out for obvious signs of the comings and goings of birds.

Once you are confident that it has been vacated, the cleaning can commence. It is usually advisable to wait until at least September before attempting this.

First, you will need to remove any nesting materials and remaining unhatched eggs, which is entirely legal from September in the autumn until January the following year. You can dispose of this material with general waste or compost it if you have the facility.

Once the nest box is free of debris, it is time to sterilise it as thoroughly as possible. The most eco-friendly way to do this is to boil up a kettle of water and pour this into the box, making sure that you clean every surface to kill off the parasites which will have built up alongside the birds during the year.

Most importantly of all, do not use any artificial substances designed for cleaning or dealing with pests. These can harm birds and other animals that will want to make use of the box in the future, so stick to the simple power of boiling water to get the job done. It is also vital to resist the temptation to treat the wood of the box’s interior with any preservative since this could also prove problematic for birds when they come in contact with it.

After you have cleaned the nest box in this way, you will need to leave it to dry out. If you don't, the material of the box may rot or quickly accumulate more pests. Leaving the lid of the box off to facilitate drying is always a good idea and remember to give the lid itself the sterilisation treatment.

Once you have checked that the box is bone dry, it is time to prepare it for its new tenants. You don't need to go overboard with your efforts; birds and other animals will take care of most of the nesting themselves. Simply add a dash of wood shavings to the box and nature will take care of the rest.

Remember that nest boxes are not always occupied by birds; they can make great homes for a wide range of other types of wildlife and so you should not try to interfere once they are occupied, regardless as to the type of animal that sets up shop. Small mammals and important insects such as bees could well adopt your bird box to provide essential shelter against the elements. This adaptability is one of the best things about them.

Maintaining Nest Boxes

While you are getting on with the cleaning work, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for any signs of wear and tear. This might be to the body of the box itself, the roof, or any other elements.

Every nest box will have a limited life span, even if it has survived for years. At some point, you will need to buy a replacement, not just for aesthetic purposes, but also to ensure the safety of the birds and wildlife that use it.

In some cases, you will be able to replace individual parts of a box rather than disposing of it and buying an entirely new unit. The lid will be particularly easy to replace, depending on the model and the material that is used.

Whether you decide to do the maintenance work yourself, or outsource this to a professional who is better equipped to craft new parts or fix existing ones, always avoid the use of toxic substances. This rule applies to all objects that you anticipate will come into contact with wildlife, for obvious reasons.

Why Work On Nest Boxes In The Autumn?

Deciding to clean and maintain your nest boxes in September or October, rather than at any other time of the year, is a good move because it fits in with the natural cycles of birds and many other animals.

At this point, the summer will just have ended and the new hatchlings will have fledged to start their own families, but the colder weather will not yet have arrived to drive every creature great and small to seek shelter.

Be aware that for some species of birds, fledging can happen well into September itself, hence the need for vigilance prior to any cleaning and maintenance of bird boxes.

Once a nesting box is free from pests and prepared for a fresh arrival, it will become a sanctuary that will be warm and dry when the wind, rain, snow and sleet of winter begin to bite.

In essence, a nest box should not just be thought of as a home that birds will use for a small period of the year, but rather a place where they may end up at any point. You simply need to plan your involvement carefully to ensure that you are not disrupting them in any way.

Indeed, steering clear of nest boxes apart from during essential maintenance periods is important. Wildlife will not use boxes which are regularly interfered with and so if you want to observe their inhabitants on a regular basis, it makes sense to be fast and discrete, rather than becoming over-enthusiastic and trying to take a peek inside!