This time of year in the northern hemisphere we are gifted with springtime nesting birds, and what a bonanza it is. From now until about June in Northern California, we are on the lookout. Here are some hints for seeing more nests where you live.
The very nature of nesting is secrecy. If the nest is to be a success, the parents have to hide it from predators. Actually seeing a nest doesn’t happen all that often.
Natural earth nests, as opposed to human-constructed bird box nests, are a little trickier to spot. (We’ll cover bird box nests another time.)
First, you have to be open to finding nests of all different construction and in any old place, because every bird species has a different kind of nest. And second, you have to be aware…on your toes.
When most of us think of a nest, we typically think of a grass-constructed cup. Passerines, i.e. songbirds, build these.
But every bird species is different, so it follows that every nest is, too. Below are two cormorant nests. The same bird family but very different nest placements.
The first one is a pied cormorant nest we found in a leafy residential gum tree above a creek, in Australia.
This second one is a pelagic cormorant nest on a Pacific Ocean cliff, spotted on a cliffside walk one day.
Swallows commonly build mud nests. Barns and bridges are good for finding swallow nests.
Raptors don’t use mud, they use twigs and limbs. You can see how twiggy this hawk nest is.
There are hundreds of different constructs.
It is helpful to have a bird nest book. A good one will describe bird nests in your area and offer detailed information. At this time of year we consult ours daily.
The more information you have, the more you know where to look.
For example, this first photo (below) is taken from a Pacific Ocean overlook on a June day. I stood on the edge of that cliff and thought, “There are probably nests on those rocks.” Once I started scanning with my binoculars, I discovered the large rock in the center was loaded with nesting seabirds.
Below is one of the nests we discovered on that rock, the Western Gull. You can see the adult has an egg underneath her, and a camouflaged chick to the right.
This post I wrote highlights various bird nests around the world: The World of Bird Nests.
Another way to spot nesting birds is to observe their bills. Usually nesting birds will have in their bills: nesting materials when they’re in the nest-building stage; or live insects or worms when they’re feeding their nestlings.
When I see either behavior I drop what I’m doing and watch the bird’s trajectory, because if I see the adults in flight, I have the added advantage of watching where they fly to, which often leads to the nest.
This week at my house there are a pair of ravens cruising past about 50 times a day. From dawn to dusk they are industriously gathering twigs nearby and carrying them off to their new nest site.
A trek into the woods to try to locate the new nest is on today’s agenda. I can hardly wait.
Years ago there was a humble rustic Texas ranch cottage in which we were staying. I was out on the front porch when I noticed a Carolina wren repeatedly going to the same spot on a tree just off the deck.
We found this mother feeding her nestlings.
Because birds are nesting wherever they live, you don’t need to be in a perfect rural setting to find nests. You just have to be aware. Nests are everywhere — backyard ivy, street lights, traffic lights, school buildings, barns.
House wrens are known for their creative nesting spots–old cars, old boots, you name it.
One spring day on a residential San Francisco Bay walk, I found it unusual that swallows were fluttering about in the mud on the shore’s edge. Ordinarily, as many of us know, swallows are gliding through the air, performing their impressive aerobatics. What was all this going on in the mud?
A closer look revealed these swallows were gathering up mud at low tide and using it to build nests under these houses over the water.
With the low tide, there was plenty of room for them to dart under the house, pack the mud, swoop out and gather more. Closer binocular investigation revealed a net had been tacked under there to prevent such behavior, but part of the net had torn away.
It probably goes without saying that we should never touch the eggs or nest. Look from afar with binoculars or a camera lens. None of us want to give away the parents’ secret, or cause the parent to become alarmed or abandon the nest.
Outdoor cats, squirrels, foxes, rats and a long list of animals and birds eat bird eggs. Jays, for example, are intelligent and aggressive, and love snacking on bird eggs.
This spring I hope you have the joy of finding a nest or two. It is a sweet reminder of the cycles of life that we humans share with all living beings.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.