The World of Bird Nests

Yellow Warbler adult on nest, Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

When we think of bird nests, our minds often default to the typical cup-shaped grass nest. But there are many different kinds of nests, built at all times of the year, all over the world–here is a glimpse.

 

Some birds are obvious in their nest-building, like colonies of frigatebirds with their nests perched in shrubs on the protected Galapagos Islands. Colonies use the power of community for protection.

 

Nesting Frigatebirds, Galapagos Islands, North Seymour Island

Other birds are more stealthy in their nest locations, and nest individually.

 

One of the secrets to spotting bird nests is watching bird behavior–you may see them carrying nesting materials in their bills or talons, like grass or twigs.

Savannah Sparrow, California

 

Although spring is the typical time of year for nesting, some parts of the world do not have defined seasons, nesting occurs year-round.

 

Flightless Cormorant pair on nest with juvenile in center, Galapagos Islands

 

More info:ย Wikipedia Bird Nests

 

Every bird species nests differently, depending on the birds’ abilities and environments. Woodpeckers, for example, have sharp chisel-like bills and a cranium for withstanding powerful drilling; they carve holes in tree trunks. Conversely, hummingbirds collect spider silk and lichen in their pinpoint bills, and quietly weave a petite nest.

 

Grass is one material birds will use, but there are many other materials. Last week we looked at Mud-Nesting Swallows. Birds like the black noddy use guano, some use saliva.

 

Black Noddy guano nest, Heron Island, Australia

 

Cup nests consist of grass and other available materials like leaves, pine needles, moss, feathers, plant fluff, bark and twig pieces–and they come in all sizes.

 

American Robin nest, Wisconsin

 

Hummingbird nest, Costa Rica

 

Large birds, like raptors or swans, build platform nests. Grebes build floating platforms.

 

Cooper’s Hawk nest, California

 

Mute swan on marsh nest with cygnets

 

Nest Overview. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Pendant nests are another interesting architecture. Oropendulas and caciques design their nests to hang from trees.

Montezuma Oropendola on nest, Belize

Oropendola nests, Peru

 

Yellow-rumped Caciques on nests, Trinidad

 

Cavity nesters prefer to nest in a hole. This can be achieved in a number of ways: using the abandoned tree hole of a previous nest, or crafting a new one, or taking up residence in a human-provided nest box.

Western Bluebird at nest box, California

Many birds nest in cavities–woodpeckers, chickadees, bluebirds, to name a few. In North America there are about 85 cavity-nesting species.

Article: Birds that Nest in Cavities

 

In the United States, house wrens are known for taking up residence in all sorts of unusual places.

House wren with nest (under rusty globe)

 

I have watched birds build the perfect abode, but have also seen sloppily-made nests yielding disastrous results. One year this beam (below) worked well for the Pacific-slope flycatcher; another year the defenseless nestlings came tumbling out onto the deck. So the next year we provided her with a nesting platform box, which was a resounding success.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher on nest

Pacific-slope Flycatcher mother nesting in platform box we put up for her.

 

Many birds prefer tree trunks, limbs, snags, or other natural venues.

Great Horned Owl and owlet on nest, California

 

And then there are birds who do not use nests at all. Penguins keep their eggs nestled around their feet, preferring mobility and en masse body heat for nesting in harsh temperatures.

 

Many seabirds, who often only spend time on land for breeding, build their nests in rock crevasses, or ledges, or on remote ocean islands. I have spent many vacations trekking to isolated places to observe breeding seabirds.

Common Murre nesting colony, Alaska

 

Blue-footed Booby on nest (note the egg), Galapagos Islands

 

There are birds who simply lay their eggs on the ground,ย  called “scrape” nesting. It is usually a shallow depression, sometimes (but not always) lined with a little vegetation. There are a surprising number of birds who lay eggs in this precarious manner–most shorebirds and terns, many ducks, and more. Many eggs are shaped to not roll.

Western Gull on nest, California

 

Flamingos nest on mounds, to keep their brood above fluctuating water levels. Kingfishers, bee-eaters, and others prefer ground burrows.

White-fronted Bee-eater, burrow nests, Zambia, Africa

 

Wedge-tailed Shearwater chick on burrow nest, Kilauea Point, Kauai, Hawaii

 

Bowerbirds build bowers to attract mates–elaborate monuments. Found in Australia and New Guinea, they are known for gathering all kinds of curious objects to attract a mate. Satin Bowerbirds find blue items attractive, and the male sprinkles whatever blue he can find around his bower. After the female and male pair up, they build a nest, separate from the bower.

Satin Bowerbird bower, Queensland, Australia

 

Weaver birds are some of the most remarkable nest builders, often displaying craftsmanship to attract a mate. A finch-like bird found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, weavers are named for their magnificent nest-building talents.

 

A post I wrote: Weaver Nests.

Donaldson-Smith Sparrow Weaver and nest, Samburu, Kenya

Weaver nest, Zambia

Wherever we are in the world, with whatever kind of bird, we see parents working away at building a safe place for their offspring. This is a vital role, and a sweet and heartwarming event to observe.

 

Written by Jet Eliot

All photos by Athena Alexander

 

Pacific-slope flycatcher nest with eggs, California

Pacific-slope Flycatcher nestlings, ten days later from above-photo.ย  California

 

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97 thoughts on “The World of Bird Nests

  1. Great post about different types of nests and nesting locations. I almost stepped on a nest on our rocky beach a few years ago. I heard a commotion and saw an angry killdeer, tail feathers up, head down ready to charge me. Fortunately I froze in place about two feet away from the nest then slowly backed away.

    • I liked hearing about the killdeer nest, Espirational. Nests can be in some of the quirkiest places, and you’re right, they’re not always visible. How fortunate you heeded the warning. Thank you for your visit.

  2. I loved everything about this post, Jet. Thanks for all the information and for sharing the lovely photos. There are certainly some amazing nests and that last shot of the hungry birds really made me smile. Happy Friday!

    janet

  3. What a wonderful post – you have to smile at the nestlings (and the blue footed booby’s feet) and admire the many fine structures and avian ingenuity. Of all the tremendous photographs by Athena, I most liked the first, of the yellow warbler – a lovely photograph.
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • Thanks so much, PC, for your delightful comment. I love that yellow warbler nest photo too. We were in a small forest on the Horicon Marsh and it was very early in the morning so no one else was around, and it was quite a process finding her in the thicket. We only stayed a minute, so as not to disturb her, and were far away, but in that short span Athena did well. Always a pleasure, my friend, sending warm smiles to you and Mrs. PC. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jet this may be my favourite post ever on your site. Each new nest I found myself saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!” The blue clothespin with the other blue paraphernalia for the color conscious Satin Bowerbird, the thrill seeking, if not death defying, nests of the Oropendola and who knew that hummingbirds make nests from spider silk? Well apparently you and now I do too. So sweet that you saved the less-than-brilliant Pacific-slope flycatcher and generations to come. Best wishes to you and Athena from Calgary where spring is finally arriving. We are waiting anxiously to see the first robin’s return.

    • My warmest smiles of thanks to you, Sue, for this kind comment. It was really fun to put together and I had no idea we had so many nest photos until I started digging. We were always proud of saving the Pacific-slope flycatchers. That summer they tumbled onto the deck it was lucky we were home, the little nestlings scattered everywhere (on foot) and one went under the deck where we have seen rattlesnakes…but we scooped the little tikes up and put them back quickly, and didn’t lose any. whew. Really fun. Many thanks, as always, dear Sue.

  5. Pingback: The World of Bird Nests… | huggers.ca

  6. Love these unusual birds and those hummingbirds nest are so cute and tiny. The Desert Sonoran Museum in Tucson has a hummingbird aviary that hubby and I couldn’t get enough of. Great photos as always!

    • I am intrigued to hear about the hummingbird aviary in Tucson, Ingrid; this doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been birding down there and that area is loaded with a huge variety of hummingbirds. So glad you enjoyed the nest post today, thank you for your kind comment. Happy travels to you–

    • Hi Craig. The African birds you speak of are weavers, more specifically, it is the sociable weaver that builds the gargantuan colony nests. I’ve read they can weigh up to a ton! Many thanks–

  7. I love that first photo of the Yellow Warbler peeping out from the foliage. Itโ€™s great to watch the birds outside my studio and around the garden gathering the different materials for nesting. I have recently changed from fat balls in the feeder to a range of seeds and now get a different range of birds visiting and today saw one of the first of the young sparrows out and about. I wonder what the Satin Bowerbird did before blue plastic was available – flowers maybe?

    • Glad you liked the Yellow Warbler photo, Alastair. That’s a bird that flits a lot, and when it comes to nesting they’re super secretive. Athena and I did a sort of relay with this one, for we had to do several “takes.” As the bird was going back and forth, I stood back and alerted Athena when the warbler was coming, so she could have the camera already to her eye pointed at the nest. Then she’d snap. Funny to think about having a relay team for a photo op, but that’s just what it was. And yes, the Satin Bowerbird gathers flowers for the bower, too, and they especially like the blue and purple. Always a delight, Alastair, thanks so much. I enjoyed hearing about the spring birds at your feeder.

  8. I have to agree with Sue, this might be my favorite post yet. The photos are so beautiful and I am forever interested by birds and everything they do. This was a treat to read.

    Recently, I was at a party with about a dozen women and I shared how much I’ll miss the birds where I live when we move this summer. I was so surprised to learn that I was only one of two of these 10 or 12 women who like birds. I was more than surprised, I was a little stunned. How can anyone not like birds? But it was a good reminder that we’re all different and that’s ok. I just cannot imagine not being absolutely fascinated by birds and their behavior. Anyway, thank you for writing such a wonderful post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the nest post today, Sylvia. It’s a topic that is near and dear to me, and I can see it is for you, too. I loved hearing about your group poll, and all the women who didn’t necessarily like birds. I, too, am stunned when I come across this with friends or acquaintances. If I didn’t have these avian friends all around the world, the world would seem so flat to me. Good news about moving. I’ve been in this temporary condo for 6 months and have missed the birds so much; but putting up new feeders has brought the little cheery flitters to my new window, so I am very hopeful you will be able to do the same thing when you move. I sure hope so. Dear Sylvia, always a great honor, thank you.

  9. Thank you so much, Jet for these fascinating nests from all over the world. Interesting information of how they build their nest and the material they use. Great photos of these beautiful birds. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It struck me one day recently how many different kinds of nests there are, so it was great fun to put this post together and I am really glad you enjoyed it, Amy. As always, thank you.

  10. Great post and photos, Jet and Athena. Birds really are amazing creatures. Our frenzied nesting season is just beginning and the best part is the dawn chorus. I love it!

    • Ah, at last your garden is livening up with joy and activity. I’m really glad to hear it, Eliza; and appreciate your visit and great comment today.

    • I am sure you’ve seen your fair share of nests too, Sherry, it really is a fascinating topic, so glad you enjoyed it. Your kind words brought me a smile, my friend.

  11. Mockingbirds built a best in a tree in my front yard. But I think it was too close to the road and caused the potential mom and dad too much stress. So in the end, although they built a very nice nest, the mockingbird decided to move somewhere else. The empty next is still up there. Maybe someone else will move in.

    • Thank you Mary, it was fun to hear your story about the mockingbird nest. When a nest has stress, that will not do. I’m glad they moved on, and have no doubt they found a better spot, but it would’ve been a treat for you to watch. I hope you find other nests this spring. Thanks so much, enjoyed this story. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. If we build houses to feel comfortable and leave with the family members, birds are no different, they adapt themselves to what they and more convenient and safe to roost their next generation. I’ve seen many kinds of nests but I made it rule not to disturb of shock the bird parents with a human presence and traumatize them. This is just me, and my theory. My friend, your post is very positive and illustrative, many people have no idea of the kinds of nests built by birds. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the nest post, HJ. At first I wrote it with instructions for how to be more attentive and respectful of the birds, all the rules, which are important (no outdoor cats, etc.). But I decided I wanted it to be just about the nest construction elements. There are hundreds of rules and instructions from bird websites all over the internet about protecting the birds, but few illustrating the many different beautiful nests that spring up in this world. I am happy you enjoyed it, my bird friend. Cheers to you for a very birdy weekend.

  13. They’re all marvelous, but I love the Pacific-slope Flycatcher’s nest. We might have to try putting up one like it. We’ve seen Phoebes here, I’m wondering if they’d go for something similar. Wishing I had taken pictures when we had a Phoebe nesting on top of an outdoor spotlight at a previous house. An electrician had to fix the light at one point when there were nestlings in it. So, I moved the nest to the top of a stepladder close to the original location. Then held my breath until mom returned and continued feeding the little ones until they fledged. It’s a very fond memory of watching these birds grow and develop from our dining room window. Your variety of nests here was a delight! Always such fun to visit one of your posts.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Gunta. My favorite nests to watch are of the birds who build around our house, like you. We have the luxury of months of observing as they build, brood, feed the fledglings, and then the whole family flying off. The Pacific-slope flycatcher bears two broods every spring/summer, and they use the same nest for both. Like many migrating birds, they nest where their parents nest, so we have hosted many generations of this sweet bird. This spring we are temporarily relocated due to the fires, but we go up to the house every week to fill the feeders and water trays, and I hear the flycatchers in the distance, hoping they have found places to nest, and happy to know they are nearby. I loved hearing about your phoebe nest and nestlings, and hope your spring yields new bird families. Many thanks, Gunta–

    • Yes, I, too have happy memories of the bee-eaters and oropendulas, Cathy. Such exotic birds they are. I’m delighted to have reminded you of happy memories, and appreciate your visit very much.

  14. perfect timing for post on nesting with so much spring nesting going on around here. Just had a small “finch”…I say finch because I truly don’t know my birds like you do…build a nest in an ornamental wreath we had on our front door. We have an enclosed courtyard leading to that door…found it accidentally and thought they were just starting to build it, so removed the wreath before they could finish it…..saw the small nest…perfect half cup size and shape…they hadn’t just started to build it, it was completed with one egg in it. Without disrupting the nest in the wreath…carefully moved the wreath to a patio chair 3 feet away that we have in the courtyard and left it upright. Mom found it within a few hours and next thing I know…two eggs…she seems happy. I just had visions of opening the front door (it swings inward)…scaring Mom and having her fly into the house…with two cats probably wouldn’t have been a good thing! Great informative post as always…I am trying to visually locate humming bird nest around us…we have so many of them…Thanks again! Have a great weekend!

    • Great hearing your “finch” nest story, Kirt. Funny where songbirds decide to set up house, isn’t it? I’m glad she was happy with the relo. As for h-bird nests, they are extremely difficult to find. But I did it once, in the wild, and have tried it every year since for a decade, with no result. The way to do it is to watch the female, for she is who builds. If you have a nectar feeder, follow her (they zoom, I know) after she leaves the feeder and see where she goes. I would guess they’re no longer building nests in AZ, so this would apply to whatever month that is for you. In No. Calif. it’s early April. Great to chat about nests, my friend. Thank you!

      • Thanks for the tips….I know Iโ€™ve said this before but I am blown away with how many birds there are here in the desert….who would have thought!!

  15. What an incredible assortments of nests you’ve encountered on your adventures, particularly the Hummingbird’s nest, how incredibly tiny – WOW!

    • Isn’t that hummingbird nest adorable, Joanne? That teeny tiny egg! We had a guide in Costa Rica who led us right to that one, it would’ve been impossible to find on our own. Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed the nest post.

  16. This is such a superb post on bird nests, Jet, I loved every word and photo! It is so very interesting on seeing where birds build their nests and survive; and you provided a wonderful review from the highest to the lowest on nest locations. Thank you!

    • I am sure you have seen so many nests too, Donna, in all your bird watching and photography. For some of us, like you and me, we never tire of observing this amazing phenomenon. Thanks so much for your kind words, much appreciated.

  17. How fantastic to have observed and photographed all of these different birds and nests around the world. I’ve been hoping to observe some of my backyard birds building nests, but so far I’ve only see a few little birds in parking lots gathering nest material. I have been watching several eagle and owl nests on YouTube and hoping I will see one of them someday. Every story and photo by Athena was heartwarming and I especially enjoyed seeing the nest of the owls and flycatchers.

    • I had no idea how many nests we’ve been watching over the years, until I had the idea for this post. It is a super delight to share it with you, ACI, and I so enjoyed your comment. The nesting owls was a tip-off from our neighbors, deep in the forest on their property; they told us where to go but we somehow got off trail, and had to climb a nearly vertical hillside. Really had to work to find them. But what a reward! And the flycatchers have been a joy every year, so fun to share their births and lives unfolding. Thank you, ACI, I’m smiling from your kindness.

  18. In the words of Mr Spock: Fascinating! I am especially intrigued by the blue-loving bowerbird. Yesterday I watched a pair of Nuttallโ€™s woodpeckers defend their cavity from a pair of aggressive starlings. The contest was still going on when I left. And it was painful for some of the other birders to watch. Iโ€™ve noticed that house finches decorate the rim of their nests with droppings. I wonder whatโ€™s with that. Thanks for this look at bird nests around the world.

    • I’m a fan of Mr. Spock and smiled at this comment, Cindy. The satin bowerbirds are intriguing, aren’t they? While in the Australian rainforest our guide took us back to the bowerbird’s bower. They use the same one year after year and create quite an estate. And you bring up another aspect of nest-building with your starlings-woodpecker observation, it can be difficult to observe, I agree. I liked hearing about the house finch nest decorating, and now you have piqued my interest, will keep an eye out for this. Thanks so much, Cindy — great to have you stop by.

  19. Amazing, fascinating, educational post, Jet, one that I looked at for a long time just in awe. I’ve watched how birds tirelessly build nests, not stopping until they are done. I find nests in all sorts of odd places … my lilac bushes, in our pine trees, our maples trees …. I’ve yet to spot a hummingbird nest yet so many come here to feed. Another bird I would love to discover where its nesting place is, are the Boston Orioles who finally are feeding here after 3 years of enticing them to come. That is my ultimate achievement in birds although now we have a wild turkey nesting on our property someplace. I hesitate to go back to find it because I heard the female cry out just the other day which told me she had laid her eggs. Again, truly amazing post one in which I really thank you for, Jet!! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

    • A true pleasure to exchange bird nest stories with you, Amy. A Baltimore Oriole would be a notable coup, wouldn’t that be fun. Congratulations on getting them to feed on your property. I just looked it up, they make hanging nests too, something you probably already knew. It’s an endless delight to host the birds, I am glad you are enjoying it, Amy–and best of luck!

      • I have every intention to follow the Oriole “song” when I hear it (morning usually) to see if I can find the nest. Thank you for the luck. I may get lucky ’cause we still don’t have much foliage here. Perfect for a spy case! (smile) ๐Ÿ˜˜

    • We were so excited to have had the opportunity to see that little nest with the teensy egg in it, Bill. We would not have found it if the guide hadn’t taken us to it. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  20. I love this post. The variety, the ingenuity, the beauty, the curiosity! My favorite is the Bowerbirds. Don’t you just wonder how that instinct ever developed? “Billy Bower, I’m partial to blue. It matches my eyes. Do you think you could…..”

    • Thanks so much, Nan, I’m happy you enjoyed the bird nest post. I almost didn’t put the bower from the bowerbird in the post, because technically it’s not a nest, but I thought it was close enough, and I’m glad I did. It’s quite a magical thing to find in the woods, and great fun to share. Always a joy to hear from you, Nan, thank you.

  21. Hey Jet!!! I love post. Amazing as always!!! I’d never even heard of pendulum nests. And the weaver nest is incredible! So fascinating. Gosh. They all are. Love the nesting platform Y’all put up and the blue bird box! We keep saying we’re going to do that. Your little mirror rocks as well! We need one of those! We’ve had a pair of redbirds nest in our front bushes and something like that would be really cool. Thank You so much for all the time You put in to bring us such loveliness and for me, an education on much!!! Cheers! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks so much, Katy, always a joy to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed the bird nests. That little mirror is a handy tool in springtime for quickly and stealthily checking on the eggs while the bird flies out for food. It’s a dental tool, ordered it on the internet. Many thanks–

  22. You have some delightful captures here, Jet. The American Robin and it’s chick is wonderful, and the swan too. Fabulous to see them in such detail. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Wonderful to see you, Jo, I’m glad you liked the bird nests. There’s nothing like a very long lens to capture the details. And I am especially lucky because I don’t have to lug it around. Have a fun weekend, Jo–

  23. I’m looking at these photos over and over again. Simply beautiful. Interestingly, the older I get, the more birds fascinate me. We loved our almost year-round hummers who visited the feeder on our deck in Tiburon. Below us, they nested at night on what we called the ‘hummer tree.’ Not sure what kind of tree it was, but dozens rested on it at night. Here in the Boston area, the hummingbirds have just arrived at our feeder. They are less social than the CA ones, and so territorial that only one is allowed on a feeder at a time. Bluebirds arrived here just as the snow melted, and their arrival always signifies joy to me.

    • Thanks so much, Pam, I enjoyed hearing about your hummingbirds. In the Bay Area we have one species that lives here year-round, the Anna’s Hummingbird. There are additional migrating species that pass through in spring and autumn. Whereas in Boston, where the weather turns cold, there are no year-round hummingbirds, it’s too cold for them in winter. Have fun with the new arrivals at your feeder, always a joy.

  24. This was interesting and I liked the assist you gave in your own backyard for the nest. I do not know what type of bird or nest but recently went over to my folks and parked right underneath one and we were swooped quite relentlessly as I dove back into the car waving away the birds with my hat and parking my car away. When we got out though they were still on us as my Mum now came charging out with a lid. We moved quickly inside where my Dad told me lucky you didn’t park on the other side of the driveway that’s where the nest is. To which I relayed that’s where we originally pulled up. They’re gone now I hear but should be back next year. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I love this story, Lloyd, thanks so much. Birds have a lot at stake and can be quite relentless, even with humans, when it comes to protecting their nests and/or nestlings. I love knowing that you moved your parking spot, and that your parents were very aware of them. Great story, thank you for dropping by.

  25. Feels like it’s been forever since I haunted these lovely parts. Great to see so much material to feast my eyes and brain cells upon.

    The Pacific-slope flycatcher is a beau. The nest seems a bit fragile, but I could make one in my pocket for any of them who want to visit my side of the world (sorry, conservationists!).

    The local Baya weaverbirds are expert architects too, but I have never seen them build nests in sizes as you have showcased here. Breathtaking, they are.

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