Apart from the odd storm, this summer has been brilliant for our wildlife and has enabled us to get outside and enjoy watching everything that’s going on around us. I’ve been watching some butterflies, moths, bats, hedgehogs and a variety of birds in my garden, including recently some families of Goldfinch. Earlier on this year, Blue Tits successfully raised a brood of chicks in my new nest box.

It’s always a good idea to give your nest boxes a clear out once a year, and it’s also interesting to take a look inside at the nest. Cleaning the box ensures that nothing untoward is lurking in there over the winter months to infest the new nest in the spring the following year. You can sometimes get parasites and insects that will lie in wait for an unsuspecting brood of chicks, reducing their chances of survival.

Take the box down and open it up. If there is a nest in there you can dispose of it as you see fit, but it’s a good idea to put it in your compost bin. Any dead chicks can also be put in the compost bin and so can any unfertilised eggs, but legally, the eggs should be destroyed. Brush out any loose material, and pour boiling water throughout the box, but take care not to splash yourself with the hot water. Allow it to dry completely before putting the box back together and back in place for another year. We sometimes hear of people that only put their nest boxes up in the spring and summer, but if you leave the box up all year round it can give the birds a safe place to roost in over the winter months. You also stand a better chance of the box being used in the spring.

Blue Tit nest from this year - Deb Depledge

You don’t need to put any nesting material into the box, but if you want to you can put some hay or sawdust in the bottom of the box, but not straw as it can harbour mold. You may find in the spring that you see birds taking this material out of the box, but that’s okay as it means they may be nesting soon and are just having a clear out, or they may just be using the material as the base for their new nest. If birds do show an interest in the box, resist the urge to take a peek as it may put them off. Birds can check out a few potential nest sites before they choose the one they like, so they may start taking nesting material into the box and then give up. Hopefully, that won’t happen and they will make full use of your nest box and raise their young successfully.

You can put nest boxes up at any time of the year, so you don’t need to wait for the spring. If you put boxes up that have different size access holes, you may have more than one species of bird nesting in your garden. Don’t forget your open fronted boxes too, which are excellent for Robins and Wrens and can be cleaned out in the same way.

Give the birds in your garden a winter roosting site and check out the nest boxes on our website. There is also a link to a page which explains the best place to put up your box and give it the best chance of being used.




  • Hi Debs,thanks for coming back to me the uptake on boxes was better than last year but mortality failure was the worst we have had. Some you win some you lose.

    As you know this work is with the Devon Wildlife Trust and on one of our local reserves we put out 50 dormouse boxes as part of the  national survey.We check the boxes every month throughout the spring summer and Autumn to see if there are any dormouse present. We have a trained volunteer in the group as you have to be licenced to handle dormice. The location for the boxes is fairly remote which is a good start, they are placed on trees in a location where there are Hazel, honeysuckle and bramble as dormice love all three...Nuts, fruit and nectar. They also feed on other food stuff to but the three are good indicators. Most of the summer Dormice live in the tree canopy they are great climbers, this time of year they make there way down nearer the ground and the boxes are then used as the transition from tree top to ground for hibernation takes place. The female also uses the boxes for their nursery.

    Last year we nothing until September where we had two then October we had 8.

    Yesterday was a good day as we had three dormice, all female, three groups of wood mice were also using some of the boxes. So hopefully we will have a good count in October. Also on the reserve we do other surveys such as reptile count where we put down felts and tins. We also had a good sighting of five Slow Worms, one Adder, two common Lizards and we have had a Grass Snake using a tin in the past. Also we had a Pygmy Shrew, and a short tailed Vole under the tins. I also keep a look out for the birds as we go around. A good morning was had by all.    

  • You did well to clean out so many boxes in a day! Sad to hear about the failures though, which I suspect the weather had a lot to do with and lack of insect food, as you say it’s difficult to be sure. Are the numbers down from previous years or are they about average (80% is a good number!). How did you do with the Dormice boxes?

  • Well we cleaned out 32 out of 42 nest boxes which was amazingly successful however there were some serious failures with full clutch of eggs and dead broods in about 10 boxes which was very sad. Trying to work out why I guess there could have been an active Sparrow Hawk in the area which took the adult birds, the weather was wet and cold so was it lack of food for the chicks in that area of the wood not really sure. On the positive side over 80% of the boxes were used and a lot fledged. All good stuff.

    Dormice boxes tomorrow so hope it will be fruitful so to speak.  

  • Hi Devonotter13, sorry for the late reply, been away on holiday in Yorkshire. It’s always interesting to see if the nest boxes have been used and if so, what made a home in there! Hope the nest box cleaning went well and you had some great results. Glad you enjoyed the blog!

  • Nice blog Debs, i am carrying out maintenance on 30+ boxes tomorrow at my local Devon wildlife Trust site near Exmouth Devon. We had a great uptake this year. Cleaning out is well worth while as it is surprising what lurks in the box after fledging has taken place. Bird boxes are used by all sorts of creatures throughout the winter including birds such as Wrens and I don't mean the odd one I have seen upto 15 birds come out of a nest box one morning during the winter months so they are used for roosting to.

    We keep records of the boxes used and what birds have used them. I haven't looked in any since we did a nest count in the spring so it will be interesting to see if the empty ones did get used for a second brood later in the early summer.