Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleaning Out A Bluebird House

I rarely go out with the sole purpose of checking all of the bird boxes. They all get checked several times during the year, but I usually just check them when I’m in the area. This box had a lot of use this year, so I decided to see if it needed to be cleaned out.

The last tenants were Tree Swallows and it looks like they left a bit of a mess behind.

Removing the front part of the nest revealed an unhatched egg. Unlike Bluebirds, Tree Swallows do not remove the nestling feces, so the nest is pretty much trashed by the time the young are fledged. Bluebirds tend to treat the box as though they owned it and Tree Swallows are more like transient tenants.

This box had a lot of debris caked on the bottom. What I really needed was a stiff bristled brush.

Fortunately I have a field full of the perfect material for making a broom. Here I’ve selected some choice Indian Grass stems and folded them in half.

A quick cut from a pair of pruners that always hang from my belt on the opposite hip from my camera and I’ve created a functional broom.

The heavy grass stalks are perfect for removing the old nest material.

The grass leaves work well to remove the dust.

The result is a fairly clean box. I usually go around in early November and perform any needed repairs to the boxes. I’ll have additional cleaning tools with me then to finish the job.


  1. Well, Lois, I'd hate for people to think I was a slum lord. I like to take care of my tenants.

  2. I like how you created your own broom. Interesting analogy between the bird species and tenants. I wonder if the tree swallow debris in a natural tree hole would help add to something...

  3. OK, Steve, you got me really interested in nest boxes for the first time in my life. Those overhead nest cams never did much for me. Thanks.

    I initially looked into why tree swallows would use old, dirty feathers (likely b/c there isn't anything better available - weren't you saying it's been raining quite a bit recently?) The solution is to provide them with clean feathers. I did find a couple pics where the TRES nest simply looked like the parents were sloppy (it isn't always the female's fault as the male brings her the materials once the nest starts taking shape), kinda like some people I know.

    I hesitate to correct blogs with info I have not personally observed... but TRES DO remove fecal sacs until 2 weeks of age, then they stop ( and numerous other online references, including peer-reviewed papers). Folks have speculated the reasons why they stop: parents are simply too busy feeding to do anything else; parents stop going into nest to encourage fledging; and youngsters' poop change from being sac-like at 14 days to more like an adult, so that it makes it impossible for either parent to remove the fecal matter.

    I've noticed in your posts that you seem to harbor some less than praiseworthy feelings towards tree swallows as opposed to bluebirds. It is nice to see you're trying to accommodate both.

  4. Thanks for the information, Katie. I don't open the boxes when there are young in the nest so I wouldn't have noticed the early cleaning efforts of the Tree Swallows.

    My comments are in no way intended to be negative towards Tree Swallows. Birds just exhibit the behavior that their genetic makeup dictates. For whatever reasons, this is the behavior that has allowed the species to survive. If I tend to anthropomorphize occasionally, it's more a jab at the behavior of people than that of the birds.