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Fall Task: Clean Out Birdhouses

Opening a birdhouse

Why it’s important to clean birdhouses

Cleaning out the birdhouses in your yard is one way to protect your backyard birds from pests and disease while making your birdhouses more attractive for new nesting birds. The fall clean up is very important. Dirty birdhouses can harbor rodents, insects, feather mites and bacteria that can spread disease to nesting birds and their young.

When to clean birdhouses

I clean out my birdhouses in the fall. Then I leave some open to discourage the mice from nesting in there over the winter. I do leave a few closed up to provide a warm roosting boxes for birds, like chickadees. I do check and clean again in the spring before nesting season, in case some mice had taken up residency over the winter.


Get your supplies ready before you start cleaning. You’ll need:

  1. some rubber gloves to wear
  2. birdhouse cleaner or bleach to kill the germs
  3. an unused toothbrush (good for cleaning the corners and holes)
  4. a toothpick to open up any clogged ventilation or drainage holes.


It’s easiest if you can take the birdhouse down to clean. This is also a good time to make any repairs, such as loose hinges, protruding nails, or chipped wood. If other birds or mice have enlarged the entrance hole, now’s the best time to repair it.

  1. Remove any remaining nesting materials and any unhatched eggs and scrape off any remaining organic material.
  2. Use a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. I find it easiest to put into a spray bottle.
  3. Scrub the inside of the birdhouse well, getting in to the corners with the toothbrush.
  4. Then rinse out the house thoroughly with water.
  5. I like to leave the house open and in the sun for a few days before remounting.

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK

The Most Effective Squirrel-Resistant Feeders

In our opinion, Squirrel Busters are the most effective squirrel-resistant feeders around. Along with their ability to foil squirrels, the Busters have a great design promoting air circulation to prevent seed spoilage and are easy to clean. They’re our best-selling feeders, so our customers must agree!

Plus—The Squirrel Buster Weather Guard

The UV-protected polycarbonate Weather Guard easily attaches to the Squirrel Buster Plus feeder to give your songbirds shelter from the rain.  No tools required!

For more about keeping squirrels away from and out of your bird feeders, take a look at our Troubleshooting Critters page! 

A Seed Mix to Discourage Starlings

a small pile of Bye Bye Starling birdseed

Bye Bye Starling Seed Mix

Try Bye, Bye Starling

If you’ve had problems with the European Starlings mobbing then emptying your feeders, we have a solution for you. Our Bye, Bye Starling seed mix has black oil sunflower, striped sunflower, golden safflower and white safflower all in the shell. Starlings have beaks that were designed to open softer-shelled seeds. Starlings prefer peanuts and seeds out of the shell due to their bill shape, which is not well suited to cracking hard-shelled seeds. Most of our other backyard feeder birds, like cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers will love the ingredients and have beaks that are suitable for opening these seeds.

And, if you’re weary of starlings emptying your suet feeders, don’t miss our video about upside-down suet feeders:

Turn Your Starling Problem Upside-Down!

As the autumn migration ramps up, you may find that you have increased numbers of European Starlings passing through your backyard. Starlings’ greedy and aggressive behaviors can intimidate other feeder birds and drain your food sources. Here’s an easy tip for serving suet to your smaller clinging birds while discouraging starlings.

Starling and upside-down suet feeder

Upside-down suet feeders are difficult for starlings to use because they’re better at perching than clinging.

Seed Storage Tips

With some simple steps, you can keep your birdseed fresh and free from pests. Take a look at the following video, prepared from the advice of our Minnetonka Manager, Carol Chenault!

a small pile of birdseed


Late-Summer Reading List

The crazy, hazy, lazy days of late summer call for a great reading list!

Bird lovers will enjoy these selections by local resident, naturalist wildlife photographer and prolific author; Stan Tekiela.

A Year in Nature with Stan Tekiela—a Naturalist’s Notes on the Seasons

Learn from the expert in this collection of some of the 500 newspaper columns from Stan’s 20 year long Nature Smart series.

Backyard Birds—Welcomed Guests at our Garden and Feeders

The book guides the reader through the lives of the most popular backyard birds. The stunning photography captures the birds in action. For more than 30 years Stan has “fed birds not only to draw them closer, but also to observe their behaviors and learn more about them.”

white-borderWild Birds—North America’s Most Unique Birds

Showcasing 28 bird species with breathtaking photography and fascinating facts, this book is a delight. Get to know North America’s birds this summer!

Summer Suet Feeding

Upside-down suet feederSuet isn’t Just for Winter Anymore

In the spring and summer, it is a great way to provide brooding birds and their nestlings with a generous amount of calories in an easy-to-eat form. Suet with insects or fruit added appeal to a wide range of birds and may provide a source of insects when they are scarce. Read More »

Creating an Ideal Backyard Wildlife Habitat

A Northern Cardinal enjoys a backyard water feature

A Northern Cardinal enjoys a backyard water feature

My wife’s and my yard is not manicured in “normal” fashion. No chemicals are used, and little seeding or sodding has been done. It is push-mowed. The wooded third of the property is not managed.

Given this setting, we looked at certifying our yard as a “wildlife habitat” through the National Wildlife Federation. It took just a little money, elbow grease, and a whole lot of reminding ourselves that the certification would have a positive impact. We went to the National Wildlife Federation website and found four requirements for certification: food sources, water sources, cover and breeding spaces.

Flowers and nectar feeder

Flowers and nectar feeder

Food Sources

Although nature provides a bounty, supplementing this food supply makes for many joyous days of wildlife watching. Adding a food source for animals also helps during a hard winter, a difficult migration, or even in times of overall habitat loss. Bird feeders, both ground- and pole-based, are excellent additions to the habitat. Also consider adding gardens of native grasses, fruit-bearing plants and nectar-producing flowers to supplement what forest and grasslands naturally provide.

Water Sources

A water source can be as simple as a birdbath or small fountain. Any relatively shallow basin will work. It is also suggested to add pebbles or stones to vary the water depth.

My wife and I added something grander than first anticipated: a backyard water feature. The combination waterfall and pond provides habitat for fish and frogs, a bathing place for birds, blooming lilies, a drinking water source for any living thing (including the family dog) and a source of sanctuary. Surrounding the water feature with native plants is advised; local nurseries are a wealth of information and assets. The contours of our yard provided a challenge to the pond designer, but working with the landscape minimized the impact. No chemicals are used in maintaining the pond. We add bacteria from time to time to help maintain pond health, but all algae control is done with the use of shade, proper filtration and a little elbow grease.
If mosquitoes are a problem, a small spinning mechanism can be added to keep the water moving. To keep water open in winter, either built-in or separate heating units may be used.

Brush piles provide cover .

Brush piles provide cover .


As beautiful as exposed, lush green lawns are they do not provide cover for birds or other animals. Consider planting native grasses, shrubs and trees. Only remove dead trees if deemed a safety or pest concern; otherwise, consider preserving decaying woody plants for animal habitat. Similarly, consider saving downed branches or twigs in brush piles.

Breeding Spaces

Mature trees provide an excellent breeding area for animals that prefer to be off the ground; and the undisturbed areas below trees give excellent cover to animals that prefer to breed on the ground or below ground. Natural tree cavities afford a good breeding space for cavity-nesters, but if your trees don’t have them you can purchase bird and bat houses of various sizes. These houses also encourage flying creatures (and squirrels) to settle in and breed.


The National Wildlife Federation recognizes our property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat and an Advanced Bird-Friendly Habitat. The latter consists of nine requirements, including: providing year-round open water, installing native plants, removing invasive plants, eliminating insecticides, keeping dead trees, providing brush piles, offering food in feeders, maintaining nest boxes and reducing lawn area. With the guidance of the National Wildlife Federation programs, our much-loved yard is now shared with wildlife and achieves important conservation goals. My wife and I encourage you to create and share habitats for all creatures great and small to enjoy. ν

For more info., visit: Adapted from an article about creating a certified National Wildlife Federation backyard habitat by Mark Newstrom and Michelle Cook.

Mark Newstrom

Mark Newstrom

Article by Guest Columnist MARK NEWSTROM

Reprinted from our May/June 2015 Edition of our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter


Late-nesting Birds

Spring is just the beginning of the nesting season for our backyard birds. Some birds will produce numerous broods over the entire summer season and some birds will wait until mid-summer to start nesting.

Multiple Broods Extend the Nesting Season

For instance, American Robins can produce 3 or 4 broods from May through August. Each brood can take up to a month from laying the eggs to the fledging of the babies. Eastern Bluebirds also can produce 2–3 broods per season, with each brood taking 5–6 weeks. And Northern Cardinals produce 2–3 broods each season, taking 3-4 weeks from laying the eggs until the babies leave the nest.

Goldfinch with thistle down in beak

American Goldfinches are assured of a good source of food and nesting materials by waiting until late summer to nest.

Late-Summer Nesters

American Goldfinches are our latest nesters. They don’t even begin to nest until late June or July, sometimes even into August. Unlike many other species of nesting birds, goldfinches do not feed their babies insects—just seeds. By waiting until later in the season, goldfinches can take advantage of wildflowers in full seed production. They also like to use the seed fluff from milkweed and thistle to build their nests. By waiting until later in the season, they are assured of a good source of food and nesting materials. You can provide nesting materials for goldfinches by hanging a Best Nest Builder fiber bundle, available at any of our All Seasons Wild Bird Stores locations.

You Can Assist Late Nesters

Planting some late-blooming flowers, like goldenrod, aster, and sunflowers will help late-nesting birds. Offering water sources can help when the babies leave the nest. They love to splash around in water.

goldenrod, purple asters, sunflower plant

Late-blooming goldenrod, asters, and sunflowers benefit late-nesting birds.

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK

Video: Get to Know Nyjer® Seed

An American Goldfinch eats Nyjer™ from a feeder

Nyjer® is a highly nutritious seed imported from Africa that is heat-treated to prevent germination. It’s a favorite of goldfinches, redpolls, Pine Siskins and more! Contrary to popular belief, Nyjer is not related to thistle.

Learn more about Nyjer in the video below!