Thursday, October 27, 2011


Pretty Boy at left with his pink-eyed youngster on right.
I’ve written about cleaning and replacing nest boxes before breeding season. However, I haven’t written about keeping them clean between clutches.

Most of my hens are meticulously clean while on eggs. They leave the box to defecate. However, after babies hatch and begin to grow, nest boxes start to become soiled. Two babies in a nest aren’t bad, but four can make the boxes pretty dirty.

When that happens, I temporarily remove the half-grown baby Bourkes, and place them in a safe, confined place. A large butter tub lined with a paper towel works perfectly for this. Old pine shavings are removed and fresh ones added. I press them down before returning the babies to their box.

Notice how dirty and crusty the pine shavings have gotten.
Three babies beginning to feather, but not ready to leave box.
My Bourkes live indoors and are very familiar with all of us, so cleaning out boxes with babies still in them is not a problem. If you have birds in an aviary, and they aren’t used to you coming and going, consider whether removing the youngsters is wise or not. I doubt a Bourke would ever abandon their nest because of a short-term cleaning, but there is a slight risk with birds that aren’t used to people.

Although I don’t always clean out boxes that have babies in them … unless they’re very dirty … between clutches, I always do. New babies are better off in a clean box. The photos with this post are of Rosie’s box. Currently, her second clutch of three is still in the cage with her and her mate. They’re being parent fed and learning to eat on their own, but not ready to leave home yet.

A photo of old shavings completely turned over by hen.
Loose and no longer crusty, but gray after previous use.
Rosie, on the other hand, is more than ready to start a new clutch. I had planned to remove her nest box, but changed my mind. These pictures illustrate how dirty a box can get, and how she decided to make it useful again. She turned over all the shavings to make the box ready for another clutch. She worked hard to make the formerly crusty, dirty box shavings soft and pliable, albeit old and gray.

Nevertheless, I felt that clean pine shavings are preferable. I set an empty 40 lb. dog food bag on a chair where it was easy to reach and, using a metal ladle, scooped shavings into it. With a sharp knife, I scraped hardened droppings and food off the sides of the box. Then, I vacuumed the interior.

An empty pill bottle blocks entry to nest box.

It might be advisable to remove the boxes to vacuum them. However, my birds are used to hearing the vacuum cleaner. It’s not very noisy as it’s an in-home vac with the motor in the basement. What they hear is loud air flow.

While I cleaned the box Rosie stayed away. She seemed to know what was going on. I did this between clutch one and two. However, before vacuuming, I decided to block the entry hole to be safe. I used an empty pill bottle that fit. Easy to put in and take back out.

Investigating her box after it has been cleaned out.
Windex was used on the sides after scraping off dry food & dirt.
Then the box was aired out. It will be throughlyscrubbed
 before it goes back up for use next year.
Later, satisfied with her box, she's fluffed
(wings out) and ready to lay an egg.
With about an inch of clean pine shavings in the bottom, I packed them down for her. As soon as the pill bottle went away, it didn’t take her long to investigate. She has already formed a “bowl” in the center. She is fluffed and ready to lay an egg, which I expect any day now.

Meanwhile, she and her mate, Pretty Boy, are still doing the deed. I expect all her eggs to be fertile. Smile.  

Pretty Boy on bowl. His three youngsters in background.
Rosie is out of sight in the nest box.

Peace & Blessings.

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