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This could be my last visit before the babies fledge, I thought to myself while glancing

through my past weeks data for Bluebird Nestbox #4. The beginning of the nesting process was normal, week one I found the start of a Tree Swallow nest, then discovered 5 perfectly

“white” eggs nestled in the rounded grasses. For the next several visits, I watched the babies grow feathers and get stronger. Now after 21 days, as I approached box #4, I could sense something was off.

Within five feet of the nestbox I was overcome with the stench of decomposition. I gave the box the KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK of a trained Bluebird Landlord and upon opening the roof of the nestbox all I could see were ants. Ants milling around in the flattened, fecal ridden nest. There was something else below the ants in the back corner of the nest, two crushed and deceased young Tree Swallows. The parents and surviving fledglings were not seen or heard nearby.

It pains me knowing the nestlings are soon to fledge, but then discovering the harsh reality of nature; sometimes not everyone makes it. I wonder what I can do differently next time. Was it the Kentucky summer heat, or did they not cry enough to be noticed during feeding? Was it their position in the nest, unable to push their way to the front? Did the mom and dad realize they weren’t feeding all their babies?

I realize I could brainstorm and solve problems all day, but sometimes there will be nothing I can do to save every bird at my songbird Bed and Breakfast. My next best move was to clean out the nestbox to encourage another brood. It is the end of June and I’m hoping we have at least another guest visit and breed on our trail.

It is always important to remove a nest after the fledglings have left. Even more so if ants, predators, or bereavement has occurred. I’ve had experience cleaning out two main kinds of nestboxes; cedar or rough cut saw pine wood boxes and recycled plastic milk jug nest boxes from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Supplies Needed: Paint scraper, plastic bag, plastic gloves, soap, and water. If ants have occurred: Diatomaceous to treat ants - Spray bottle with vinegar/water or Clorox/water

Process: While wearing gloves, remove the nest completely with the paint scraper, put the nest and debris into a plastic bag and dispose. Use soap, water and a scrub brush to clean the floor, walls, and ceiling of the nextbox, then rinse with plain water.

For more detailed and specific breed instructions, visit Cleaning Out Nestboxes by

Flattened nest of a Tree Swallow, after nestlings fledged.
Flattened nest of a Tree Swallow, after nestlings fledged.

Maintaining a clean and inviting nest box provides me with hope for the next visitors. Monitoring and tracking data proves that there is more opportunity for good experiences than bad.

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