It’s mid-February and we’re starting to feel the first signs of spring. In some parts of the country, birds have already begun singing in their yearly quest to establish territory and attract a mate. Soon bluebirds and other songbirds like chickadees, tufted titmice, tree swallows and wrens will begin looking for places to build their nests.
While it’s still relatively cold out, though, those nest boxes provide valuable overwintering cover for wildlife such as mice, squirrels and non-migratory birds. Nest boxes provide shelter from the wind, rain or snow, as well as an escape from predators. Some birds will use nest boxes for food storage or as communal roosts to stay warm.
This is a good time of year to make sure your nest boxes are free of pests like wasp nests and old nesting material to prevent problems with pests, disease transmission, etc. During clean-outs, try not to disturb any animals that you may find overwintering in one of the boxes. You can always come back later when it’s warmer. However, mouse and rat nests should not be allowed to remain during the breeding season, as mice can carry a disease (Hantavirus) that can harm both humans and birds, and their presence can deter native birds from using the box in the future.
When cleaning out nesting material from the box, if you find any evidence that the nest is active and belongs to a native bird, you should leave it alone. Good monitoring records can help you figure out if the previous year’s nesting material has already been cleaned out.
If you’d like more information about starting a nest box monitoring program, contact the Wildlife Habitat Council or your local Audubon Society.