I build birdhouses as a hobby and keep quite a few active birdhouses in my yard. Proper maintenance is important for the good of the birds and to ensure your enjoyment of the houses.
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Step 1: Semi-Annual Clean Out...
At least once a year, but preferably twice a year the birdhouse needs to be cleaned out. Tap on the house and listen for activity inside. Carefully shine a flashlight inside to make sure there aren't eggs or chicks inside. Always look from the corner of the house diagonally in through the hole as a startled bird may fly straight out. Once you are sure the house is not in use, open whatever hatch is provided and pull out the old nesting material. Use gloves and wash thoroughly afterwards.
Step 2: Inspect the Bird House for Saftey Hazards...
While the house is still open, inspect it for hazards. Check for splintered wood that might scratch a chick's eye or loose nails. Looks for signs of wasp nests and other insect invaders. If the house is attached to another structure, inspect the hardware attaching it and make sure it is still sturdy. Take the nest down if you want to discourage off season nesting. I have active nests ten months out of the year, so I don't do this. Close the hatch for next season.
Step 3: The Importance of Inspecting the Bird House Entrance...
Beware of bird houses with enlarged entrances, especially if there are signs of chewing. Remove and repair (if possible) all bird houses with enlarged entrances because a predator has turned the nest into his food pantry. Leaving such a nest in use will only create a cycle of doom for the parents. A new piece of wood or metal with the proper sized hole can be placed over the damaged area or the house can be taken down and used for decoration instead.
Step 4: To Perch or Not to Perch...
Many people have told me stories of Blue Jays eating the chicks out of their birdhouses. Some folks have even taken down their bird house because they we so upset by what they saw. I have found that the best way to keep enjoying a bird house once it has been discovered by Jays and other predators is to remove the perch. Without the perch, the Jays or other predators will have a difficult time getting to the chicks. Likewise, the smaller birds that belong in the nest will hardly notice the absence of the perch. A male who used to sing while standing on the perch will simply hop up on to the peak of the roof and sing away. The house pictured has a compromise; a small ledge instead of a traditional perch.
Step 5: Not in Use - No Occupado?
Some folks tell of bird houses that are never used. Hanging nests tend to be used less than ones that are securely attached to a stationary object. Also, heat is a big factor. If you are discouraged because you can't seem to attract nesting birds, try attaching a bird house directly to your home or shed and make sure the house is tucked under an overhang so that it is shielded from the sun. The second house pictured is on the south side of my shed and tucked under a spruce tree. This nest is active year round and by far, my most successful one. Hope this instructable is helpful. Keep an eye out for my $2 birdhouse, coming soon.