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Do Birds Reuse Their Nests? Should You Remove An Old Nest?

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gray catbirds nest

If you’re looking at an empty birdhouse or nest, it’s only natural to wonder if a bird is going to come back and reuse it next season. The truth is that while the same bird likely won’t come back to the nest, that won’t stop other birds from making it their own.

But should you leave a bird nest up, and why might it be a bad idea? We answer those questions and more for you here.

hummingbird divider

Do Birds Reuse Their Nests?

While some birds might reuse their nest year after year, most birds don’t use the same nest. Instead, they’ll head out to a nesting site and either find a different nest to use or build a new one from scratch.

It’s not that they won’t want to reuse it if it’s still there, but there’s a good chance that another bird will have made it their home, and birds don’t always remember exactly where they built their last nest.

an empty bird's nest

Image Credit: pieonane, Pixabay

Will Other Birds Reuse a Nest?

Even if the same bird won’t come back to a nest year after year, as long as the nest is in good condition, there’s a good chance that another bird will come and use it.

While birds can build their own nest, they are opportunistic and will use a nest if they find one. They’ll also make repairs if it’s not in perfect condition.

Should You Take Down an Old Bird Nest?

While it can be tempting to leave an old bird nest to make it easier for birds the next season, there is a strong argument for taking them down. An old nest can be a breeding ground for parasites, and it can negatively affect birds that make it their home next year.

Cleaning out the nest helps with this, but the only way to completely eliminate the risk is to tear it down and let them build a new one next year.

sparrow nest_Holly Jade_Pixabay

Image Credit: Holly Jade, Pixabay

Should You Remove Old Nests From Bird Boxes?

While you don’t have to remove old nests from bird boxes, it is recommended to do so. The reason is that a clean nesting box is a much more attractive option for birds, and it increases the likelihood that a bird will make it their home.

It also opens up the possibility to attract different types of birds, because different birds like to make their nest from different materials. At the very least, you should clean out the bird box a bit, even if you decide that you want to leave part of the nest in there.

Do Birds Destroy Each Other’s Nests?

While it’s possible for a territorial bird to destroy another bird’s nest, it’s not a common occurrence. It is more likely that some birds will raid other birds’ nests, and they might eat the eggs.

Furthermore, some birds go to other birds’ nests and lay their eggs there so the other bird will raise the young as their own. So, if you want to take a nest down, you’ll likely need to do it yourself or wait for a strong enough storm to come by, because birds won’t tear down the nest on their own.

dove in its nest

Image Credit: Innviertlerin, Pixabay

Do Birds Use Birdhouses in the Winter?

While many birds migrate to a warmer location during the winter months, not every bird does this. Therefore, it’s completely possible that you’ll have a bird in your birdhouse throughout the winter.

So, if you’re looking to clean out a birdhouse, you need to be sure that a bird isn’t currently staying there. Just watch the birdhouse for a few days and see if a bird stops by. If they don’t, you should be good to clean it out.

If you’re looking to see some birds during the colder months, an insulated birdhouse is a great way to increase those chances. Leave out bird food for them too, so they have access to food throughout the winter months when it can be a bit more challenging for them to find.hummingbird divider

Final Thoughts

While the same bird likely won’t come back year after year to reuse a nest, there is a good chance that a new bird will come and make it their home. So, it’s up to you if you want to make it easier for them by leaving the nest up, though you may want to take it down due to the risk of parasites.

If you do clean out the nest, do it early enough so you’re not accidentally messing with a bird’s home while they’re living there!


Featured Image Credit: Paul Tessier, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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