FauNature - Bringing You and Wildlife Together

Maintaining a Nesting Box

bp_adr001202.wIt would be nice to think that once a nesting box is installed that is it!  Nesting animals would breed and all would live happily ever after!  Unfortunately wildlife/nesting boxes need periodical monitoring and maintenance.

You can either maintain the box(s) yourself following the instructions below or have the box professionally maintained.  fauNature® offers a maintenance service, when required; however for those outside the Adelaide area, a range of other business such as pest controllers, gardening companies or arboriculturist may also be able to provide this service (particularly if provided with these instructions).

Detailed monitoring will be dealt with in a future article, but for the purpose of this topic - monitoring is basically keeping an eye on the nesting box, seeing what native species are using it and when, as well as ensuring the box is not occupied by feral species.  This process is ongoing.

Why maintain Your Wildlife/Nesting Box?
A Nesting Box will ideally be maintained every year to ensure that:
1) Safety of both people and animals using the property;
2) Minimise the potential impact on the tree (where used);
3) To maximise the useful life of the box. 
It is also a rewarding way for you to determine the successes (or otherwise) from the previous season.  

February to April is a good time to think about cleaning/maintaining a wildlife/nesting box as most birds will have completed their nesting by then.  Species like Brushtail Possums or micro-bats may be present year round, so monitoring the box to determine when it is vacant or "securing" the animal within the box safely may be necessary, to undertake a maintenance program.

The equipment you will require to maintain a fauNature nesting box(s) yourself includes:
1. Access to the box (which will be a minimum of 4m);
2. Cordless drill and 3/8 hex-head driver and/or 3/8 socket and driver;
3. 3/16 drill bit;
4. Treatment to be reapplied (oil or paint), if required;
5. Replacement PV Spacers, if required;
6. Small digital camera, with a flash (or a torch).

Steps to wildlife/Nesting Box maintenance/cleaning *
1. Ensure you can access to the box safely;
2. Approach to box looking for signs of usage, as it may have a current resident.  These signs could include chew or scratch marks, trapped hairs, small feathers or staining around the entrance; 
brushtail in nb 208.wBe prepared - if a possum is using the box at the time, it may either cower in the bottom or snarl and growl at you; which can be quite disconcerting! 
3. Use the camera (or torch), poking it through the entrance hole and take a photo (3-4 may be required) of the base of the box.  If you haven't heard any noise by now, review the photo to see if there are any residents?   If there is no evidence of wildlife, remove the securing pin and slowly open the door, checking that indeed this is the case. If there are no residents, go to the next section, if an animal(s) is present go to the section "Cleaning with an animal present".

Cleaning the nesting box with no wildlife present
4. Where appropriate - open the door fully - then using either the cordless drill (or driver) and 3/8 socket unscrew the top attachment 100mm Teks® screw about six (6) turns.  This should be enough to create a little "slack" between the screw head and the box, so the box can be slid up (and off) later;
5. Using the cordless drill and 3/8 socket remove the base 100mm Teks® screw (and spacer) completely;
6. Slide the box up along the top 100mm Teks® screw, carefully remove it from the screw and lower it to the ground;
7. Check the state of the "Spacers", top and bottom, if they were installed originally.  If you did not originally use Spacers and have the box connected to a tree, it is strongly recommend that you purchase/acquire PV Spacers.  If the PV Spacers are distorted or flattened - replace them; if the PV Spacers in reasonable condition, set aside to re-use;
8. Empty out the old nesting/bedding material, scraping the residue out as necessary.  Place the removed nesting material either on the garden or in the compost bin;
9. Check the drainage holes in the base of the box.  If the hole are clear fine; if they are blocked re-drill the holes so they are open;
10. Re-treatment - if the box has been treated with an oil based preservative re-treat externally, all over the box.  Ideally retreat with Lanotec's Timber Seal where possible; alternatively with a vegetable base oil (e.g. tung oil) for treating exterior furniture, will suffice.  If the nesting box has been painted, re-treatment may not be necessary or it may simply be "spot treatment".  Set the box aside to dry;
nesting_material_on_base_of_nest_box11. Once dry, place new bedding material (clean wood chip or garden mulch) in the bottom of the box;
12. Check the original attachment holes in the tree.  Assess the level of damage, if it is modest re-install the box in exactly the same location, using the existing 100mm Teks® screw left in the tree earlier and spacers, but allowing for the trees expansion.  Otherwise shift the attachment away from the affected area and refer to the Nesting Box Installation page on this website;

Roosting boxes for micro-bats generally require little maintenance other than ensuring the box itself is in good condition and the attachment system is secure (consider points 4, 5, 7 and 11) .  DO NOT handle bats if any are encounter (see below), it is illegal to do so and certain species are known to carry potentially dangerous diseases. 

Cleaning the wildlife/nesting box with an animal present
Having re-closed the door and replaced the pin, you need to determine whether NOW is the right time to proceed with the cleaning/maintenance process. 

If there are eggs (not left over from last season) or chicks being raised, withdraw and allow to breeding process to finish.  Monitor the box more closely, checking it again (4-8 weeks) to ensure the residents have departed, then return to step 4. when no wildlife present.

If you encounter any bats, either leave box until a later date (as above), alternatively, place a thick rag (e.g. hand towel) into the entrance of the box filling the hole completely.  Undertake an assessment of the box and attachment system, as above.  In this instance the box needs to be handled extremely carefully to minimise any impact on the bats. The roosting box needs to be replaced as soon as practical (ideally within 10-15 minutes).

Possums are likely to be encountered, when looking to undertake nesting box maintenance.  If a possum(s) is encountered, internal cleaning is not possible without displacing the animal(s), so the focus will be on the external aspects of the box:
4. Cut a small scrap of wood, just larger than the entrance and attach it over the hole (thereby protecting you and the possum).  Screw on the wood scrap to the nesting box, if at all possible, as nailing it into place would be incredibly disconcerting for the possum(s);
5. With the possum(s) secure, inspect the attachment system to determine its state.  Little can be done with the top 100mm Teks® screw /PV Spacer at this point, however it is important to know if there is any imminent risk.  If the attachment system is in poor condition the box will need to be removed at night, when the possum(s) is out foraging and any issue addressed.  If attachment system is in good condition…
6. Check the bottom attachment point and the state of the "Spacer", if it was installed originally.  If you did not originally use Spacers and have the box attached to a tree, it is strongly recommend that you purchase some PV Spacers.  If the PV Spacer which is distorted or flattened - replace; if it is a PV Spacer in reasonable condition, simply unscrew the 100mm Teks® screw a 3-4 turns to allow for the future growth of the tree. 

Feral species such as Honey Bees, House Sparrow and European Starlings can occupy boxes and potentially out compete native species.  These animals need to be removed where ever they are encountered.  Look out for future articles on Honey Bees and invasive bird species. 

As far as cleaning/maintenance goes for feral birds, simply remove the nesting material, give the box a good wash out, ideally using bleach (to remove parasites) and follow the other instructions above.  Ideally if you see feral birds inspecting or hanging around the box use a jet of water or similar to try and move them on, however be aware these species can be incredibly persistent.

7_rosella_chicks-teringie-3CONGRATULATIONS!  Your fauNature nesting box has now been cleaned/maintained and is ready for another breeding season!  Now you can sit back and enjoy your wild neighbours, for another year!

N.B. Working at heights can be a risky business, please ensure you are familiar with the operating instructions for the ladder, platform or what ever device you are using to access your nesting boxes.  Above all ensure your own safety!

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