These days there are too few opportunities to go outside and putter in the garden, basically because the garden is frozen.

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Parental House Wren feeding a chick in our blue birdhouse.

But then I remembered that the people who know about such things recommend that birdhouses be cleaned annually to discourage the spread of disease, and winter would be the time to do it. We’ve had 4 birdhouses in the back garden since the spring of 2017, and they’ve not yet been cleaned.

These are all the right size (particularly the entrance holes) for House Wrens and Chickadees. The holes are surrounded by metal rights meant to keep out the evil English Sparrows, who will invade the nests of other species and destroy the eggs.

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This birdhouse is the easiest for cleaning, though it also looks the least interesting.

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You can open the roof and one wall so it’s easier to get in there and clean. It’s attached to a pole obtained from Wild Birds Unlimited.

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The other three birdhouses can only be opened up by unscrewing their respective bottoms, which honestly takes less than a minute each. These all hang by wires from shepherd’s crooks. These I brought inside for their cleaning.

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Opening up these birdhouses provided some interesting clues as to which birdhouses have the most curb appeal, so to speak. Clearly the boxy blue birdhouse was the most popular of all with the House Wrens. It looked as if each year different Wren families had crammed it full with another layer of twigs.

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Nestled in the twigs was this nest, lined with grasses, leaves, feathers, and what I think were spider egg pouches. I was surprised that no eggshells could be found, since baby Wrens had definitely fledged in this birdhouse.

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The yellow birdhouse seemed to be the second most popular. It had some twigs and other nesting material, but not the same quantity as the blue birdhouse.

After clearing all the twigs, dirt, and other shmutz out of your birdhouse, the Audubon Society website says you should give the inside a scrub with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

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Apparently the red birdhouse had been rejected by all the househunting Wren families. It was almost completely empty.

Why were some birdhouses preferred over others? All were about 6′ off the ground. The red birdhouse was the most horizontally cramped. Also it was facing west, while the others faced east. Maybe House Wrens don’t like the color red, or there’s some other issue of avian feng shui I haven’t thought of.

Something to consider during the long winter nights, waiting for spring and next year’s Wren chicks.

24 Comments on “A Winter Cleaning for the Birdhouses”

  1. Hmm…I might be tempted to try some different wren houses. But then I’ve never even seen a wren in my yard. I do get chickadees however… Likely the eggshells were eaten by the hen. At least that’s what my birds do when an egg falls to the floor and breaks – they go right down to clean it up. Recycling.

  2. What lovely warm thoughts this brought today on a cold snowy day. Wrens are worth the effort of cleaning out their houses. I had a chickadee take up housekeeping in a box hung higher in a tree. Wrens are very territorial tho. I always like to see what they cram into the boxes. Plus you save the energy of the bird that has to do the housekeeping at the beginning of the season. Helps them get a faster start. Good job.

  3. I always enjoy seeing bird nests, that cozy place where birds bring up their young. It seems to me that finding one in a birdhouse would make the chore of cleaning ever so much more pleasant. Interesting that one house is more popular than the others. I wonder if it is the color.

  4. In my new place, I’m going to start with a feeder or two, but there might be a spot for a birdhouse, too. I’ve seen cardinals and goldfinches, and I think I might have seen a wren. Once the word gets out that water and food are available, I might see more.

  5. My guess would be the red house was neglected due to two things – the size and the direction it faced. Of course, it could be something completely different. Maybe you could switch the red and blue ones and face all the same way to see what happens next year.

    Thanks fo sharing.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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