Birds build their nests in the darndest places around your house - below a deck, atop a porch light, in a planter or whatever seems safe and stable to a bird. Or, maybe you set up a nesting box that some chickadees, martins or wrens used to raise their baby birds.
When is it safe to remove bird nests without interfering with nature?
Most birds use the nests only once and will start fresh in the spring with a new nest. However, if you're eager to pull that empty nest off your porch light, just be mindful of a minor exception to the "one-and-done" rule. Some species, such as the American Robin, produce two or three sets of chicks in the same season. If that's the case, you may see Mama Bird back in a matter of days, incubating another set of eggs in the same spot. But next season and beyond? They, too, would build a brand-new nest.
When you're certain the birds are through with their nest, you can discard it with a clear conscience.
What should I do with nesting boxes?
As for nest boxes and bird houses, once the babies have fledged, you may discard the nesting material and give these structures a good cleaning. All you need is warm water and detergent, combined with gentle scrubbing and a good rinse. (If there are a lot of bird droppings left behind in the box, dunk the box a bleach solution that’s one part bleach to 10 parts water).
After cleaning, you can return it to its old spot, so songbirds can use it as a shelter during the winter. Before the weather turns cold, use electrical tape to close the vents near the roof to help hold in warmer air.
In the meantime, it's enjoyable to watch fledglings learn to make their way in the big, wide world. Keep your feeders filled with high-quality bird food, such as Lyric Supreme Mix, and you'll be treated to an up-close look of these young birds interacting with their parents.
You can learn more about the nesting habits of the birds in your backyard, including when the nesting season of different species begins and ends, by visiting NestWatch.org.