We posted a little while ago about pruning, as a winter chore for those who can't wait until spring to get into the garden. Another chore you can do is to clean out your birdhouses before nesting season starts - coming up soon! We've mentioned the benefits of keeping good populations of birds around your garden. Many birds - such as chickadees, nut hatches, bushtits, kinglets, and others - eat massive quantities of pests like aphids and caterpillars, particularly during nesting season. So providing them with nesting boxes, and then taking good care of the boxes year to year, is only for the better.
Below, on the left, is a basic FarmCity nesting box, opened for cleaning to rid it of pests such as lice and fleas, which if left to accumulate from year to year will weaken the next year's hatchlings.
Before I go into details: if you're squeamish about the idea of the fleas and lice, by all means, wear rubber gloves. I've done this bare-handed for years - because I'm so irrevocably macho even in my love for baby birds - and I've never had any problems. Doing it in winter is probably the key.
To clean it, I usually take the box down from the tree, but it can also be done with the box still suspended, like in the first photo. Open the front - at least on FarmCity boxes - and remove last year's nesting material. (Note to macho self: try hard not to cry at this point. The sheer kindness and care with which the bird-parents have lined the box in the softest moss and down is always very moving). Throw out the nesting material.
Then wash the box either with water and bleach - or to avoid using such a chemical, I use boiling water. If you use bleach, rinse the box out with plain water afterwards. The main idea is to clean every surface in some way that will kill any unwanted critters, while not leaving behind toxic residues. We build our boxes with small drain holes at the corners, both to help the box stay dry while the babies are in it, and to aid drainage when cleaning.
The picture on the right, above, shows the nest, and the tiny depression, maybe 1-1/4 inches (3 cm) across, where the eggs sat. Chickadee mums must have puny bums!
Leave the box sitting open awhile to dry out, then close and rehang it. Next post: more strategies for attracting birds!