For most birds, nesting season peaks in early summer. 

Incredibly, bird nests look as different as the birds that build them. In fact, each species’ nest displays characteristics so distinctive that field guides readily detail location, materials, size, and construction.

Most of us likely first “saw” bird nests in children’s books. Those nests, invariably made of small twigs, sat straddle a branch about midway out from the trunk, and hosted happy bird families.

In reality, few nests straddle a branch. Even fewer sit midway out. And almost none are made entirely of small twigs.

PictureFor instance, Baltimore Orioles build miraculously woven six-inch long pouch-like nests suspended from the tip of a branch by a few long fibrous strands. White-eyed Vireos likewise build pendulous nests, suspended between two twigs near their fork, situated low, amid dense vegetation.

Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and Song Sparrows situate their nests on or near the ground, protected only by stealth and dense undergrowth

Woodpeckers carve out tree cavities in which to raise their young, but they don’t build nests inside. And since woodpeckers use a cavity for only a single year, the following year may bring Wood Ducks, Great-Crested 
Flycatchers, Prothonotary Warblers, Tufted Titmice, or White-breasted Nuthatches to the ready-made cavities.Belted Kingfishers carve tunnels in mud banks, building their nests at the upper end. Swallow species stick mud-dab nests under eves of buildings or under bridges. Chimney Wwifts use their own saliva to glue nest materials inside chimneys. Killdeer lay eggs in a mere scrape on the ground.

PictureCarolina Wrens shape closed nests with a side entrance. Most flycatchers build cup-shaped nests in tree forks. Incubating Mourning Doves sit motionless, unblinking, on their flimsy collection of sticks, thus camouflaging nests.

Brown Creepers stuff their nests behind loose tree bark. American Goldfinches tuck their tiny cup nests in forks of shrubs, small trees, even sturdy weeds, cups so solidly compact that they feel wood-hard when tapped

 Owls never build nests, instead commandeering old hawk nests or natural tree cavities. Once I saw a Great-horned Owl nesting in a former Bald Eagle nest, nearly lost in the bulk. Osprey will accept man-made platforms over or near good fishing waters.

PictureNest materials differ, too.

Canada Geese pull surrounding vegetation toward themselves, forming a loose nest on the ground, and line it with their own downy feathers. Male House Wrens stuff every available cavity with twigs; then, females choose the best site which they then line with soft grasses. Carolina Wrens build cavity nests with grasses and dead leaves.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds assemble lichen-covered nests from dandelion and other plant down, fastening them with spider web to the limbs they straddle. Tree sap “glue” makes nests snug.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers employ a similar lichen-cover disguise and spider-web attachment technique.

Northern Cardinal and Brown Thrasher nests include shreds of bark from bald cypress or wild grape. Carolina Chickadees lay foundations of moss on which they construct neat cups of plant down, hair, and plant fibers.

While we glimpse something of birds’ personalities by the nests they make, we also recognize their amazing—if innate—skill in weaving secure cradles for their young. They do with bill and feet what we can’t begin to do with two hands and assorted tools—and an illustrated guide

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