Nesting Time

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.

More info: Bird Nest Wikipedia

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.

72 thoughts on “Nesting Time

  1. Very timely post. I watched a neighborhood osprey carrying a stick that was bigger than he was to a pole in town. They’ve nested there for many years. His spouse followed behind chewing him out the entire way, and even as he placed the new addition. It cracked me up.

    • I have a smile on my face, Craig, thanks for your story about the nesting osprey. I love seeing birds carrying nesting material espec. when it is, as you say, bigger than the bird. Cheers, my friend, to nesting time.

  2. Excellent information and images, Jet and Athena! There was a Finch trying to establish a nest in the wreath on my front door, but every time we open the door it takes flight, so it looks like it gave up that idea, thankfully, and the Swallows like to try building their nests above my front door which I don’t like at all we sweep it often during the Spring.
    I may have to install plexiglass around the entry area like my next-door neighbor has done if they don’t get the hint. I love watching them, but I wish they’d pick a more appropriate place to nest. πŸ˜€

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the nest post today, Deborah, it was great fun to compose. As for nesting birds around your house, we have had similar experiences over the years. The trick is to put up barriers before the nesting season begins and they will gladly nest elsewhere. Many thanks for your visit today.

  3. Great post Jet. Thos bern swallows have picked a good spot to nest at Point Reyes. They’ll keep nice and warm at night against that light bulb. Here our the skylarks do an excellent job of disguising where their nests are in the bracken on the hillside. Hovering high above, they never land directly above the nest but some way off and then scoot through the bracken unseen. I wouldn’t want to go trampling through the bracken to try and find a nest as there would be way to much danger of stepping on one without realising it.

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing about the skylarks and bracken in Wales, Alastair. I find it fun to watch nesting birds return to the nest, and interesting how some species, like the skylarks you observe, do not land directly at the nest and then scoot in, so smart and stealthy. Always a joy to have you stop by, Alastair, thank you.

    • My warmest thanks, Hien, for your visit and kind words today. It’s a pleasure sharing the fun of nesting time, and I have no doubt you are familiar with much of it.

  4. It’s so exciting to learn there is anything at all nesting nearby. Once discovered
    routine watching of their nest and it’s development becomes habitual!
    You have such a fine selection of birds to watch it is no wonder how it
    could grab your interest. (It has done to us too!)
    Excellent photos captured them perfectly! Thank you Jet. Enjoy your weekend

    • I am happy to receive your comment, as always, dear Eddie. You know well the art of awareness, and add to that all the exciting bird nesting that’s going on around us, it makes for lively and happy times. My warmest thanks.

  5. Such a hopeful time watching birds build their nests. That consistency of cycle no matter what is going on for us humans riding the roller coaster of pandemic waves. Athena’s photos are…well one runs out of adequate descriptors…stunning. As if we are having a treasured glimpse into the lives of these birds. how clever for that wren to nest under the globe. I believe I’ve seen that photo once prior? As tantalizing today as then. Best wishes to you both and hope this finds you well.

    • Wonderful to hear from you today, Sue, and so much fun to share the nesting birds with you. Yes, I have displayed the globe photo before, it is from my cousin’s backyard, and until we showed him the photo, he had no idea there was a wren nesting there. My warmest thanks for your lovely visit today, and sending wishes to you and Dave for a peaceful weekend.

    • That’s a great idea, Jan, the book will make a wonderful birthday gift. The Peterson Field Guides are great, and I espec. like the bird nest book. It’s packed with interesting information. Cheers to you, my friend, and many thanks.

  6. I find it very interesting to see the different types of nest. As you said, each bird type has a unique kind of nest. I love it when I see that birds are nesting nearby, The only thing I find a bit upsetting is that the crows move into the area and pick off the young birds. Otherwise, it’s a fine time of year for birdwatching.
    Great post.

  7. This is my favorite time for seeing birds. Yesterday a cardinal was pounding his beak into his reflection on our sliding glass door, so I’m thinking a nest is nearby. Wonderful information and post Jet!

    • Your mention of the cardinal with his reflection is a good reminder that nesting and breeding time brings out all sorts of odd behavior, Meg. Thanks very much for your comment and visit — much appreciated.

  8. Wonderful images with excellent information. This is such axciting time of the year. I love the swallows. When I lived in my 300 year old cottage in Wales….swallows returned to the same nests every year. Where I am based now in Hampton, a very leafy part of Greater London, I am surrounded with trees and listen every morning to the beautiful dawn chorus:) Have a beautiful weekend. Janet πŸ™‚

    • Always a delight to “see” you, Janet, thanks so much for stopping by. I love hearing that you are surrounded by trees and birdsong in your London domicile, and soaking it all up. My warmest wishes to you for a lovely weekend filled with birdsong.

  9. Such a wonderful post Jet! I was just watching this morning an American robin picking up some dried grass from our backyard. A true joy to watch and listen these little creatures😊
    Have a lovely weekend!
    Christie

  10. Very interesting. You are richly gifted with the skills and patience needed to spot so many different nesting birds. Thank you for sharing!

    • My love and thanks, dear Nan, for your warm comment. It does take a lot of patience to locate and photograph nests, and your acknowledgment is most appreciated.

  11. This is the time of the year (Spring), when most birds have already met a mate and built a nest, where their females will lay the eggs product of their mating, hence the new family. It’s time for the birds to complete the circle of life! Great post, my friend to welcome the next generation of avians. Thank you! πŸ™‚

    • Wonderful way to put it, HJ — the nesting post as a welcome to future generations of avians. Thanks so much for your lovely comment and friendship. I would imagine your yard has a few nests tucked in places — have fun with them, as I know you will. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Cindy, I’m really glad you enjoyed the nesting post today. It has been great fun collecting images and memories of the nests. I’m guessing The Holler is blessed with a few nests right now.

  12. I loved reading this informative post! The Savannah Sparrow with a full load of grass is a wonderful photograph. Even with your instructions, I had to look hard to find the camouflaged gull chick!
    Thanks, Jet, for sharing and highlighting the natural wonders, and we wish you both a wonderful weekend!

    • I do like the photo of the savannah sparrow, too, pc. We were in the car and he landed on the fence just as we were passing, and Athena was able to snap it. I thought the Western Gull chick was almost impossible to see so I pointed it out, and I’m glad I did so you could see that adorable little chick. Always a joy to share the “natural wonders” with you, my friend. Thanks for your fun post today, too.

  13. love the Coopers and Redtail hawk nests — I think those are very special.
    We have a Carolina wren nesting in a light by our garage door. Every time we open the door or walk by she flies away

    • I agree, Bill, the two hawk nests are special. It takes quite a bit of neck craning, hiking, and searching to find a hawk nest, so hidden they are in the forest. In both cases of these two nests, different neighbors had seen each nest and pointed them out to us so at least the search was easy. Liked hearing about your Carolina wren. Thank you, dear Bill, for your visit and comment.

    • Always a joy to have you stop by, Janet, thanks for your visit and comment. I love owlets too, what’s not to love? They’re so fluffy and helpless and they often have those big eyes that are still kind of lazy. That swallow nest with the demanding nestlings is a fun one, I’m tickled that it made you laugh out loud. Thank you Janet, a pleasure.

  14. Aww! Lovely babies. I notice the sparrows fighting for territory outside our apartment. Real estate is scarce in the city. In the park Starlings are stealing the Red-bellied woodpecker holes. The Red-tailed hawks and kestrels have setup nests in some of the penthouses along the sides of the park. Very exclusive high rent abodes. Nesting season is a wonderful time of the year.

    • I so enjoyed hearing about the nesting in NYC, Sherry. It really is a wonderful time of year, as you say, and there’s so much activity in the birds’ secret world, bustling with life. Thanks so much for your contribution.

  15. Delightful post and photos, Jet and Athena. As our migrants arrive daily, I hear and see them staking out territories. Our evergreen hedge is a popular nesting site. However, as much as I try to see nests, in the autumn after leaf fall, I am always amazed at how many were hidden so close to the paths we walk daily and never saw them!

    • I so enjoyed your observations and comment, Eliza. It’s true. We can hear the birds and know they’re nesting, but what a surprise when the foliage drops away in fall! They are masters at secrecy. We live in a forest and do more trail work than gardening for numerous reasons, so I always find complete joy in your garden, and thank you for this nugget today.

  16. what a delightful read, Jet. i am very fascinated by birds’ nests. such architectural/engineering genius. i’ve never seen a mud nest. that is so interesting. Athena’s photos are beautiful, thank you as always. happy weekend πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Always a joy to have you stop by, Wilma. I’m glad I could introduce you to the mud nests, and I agree with you, so interesting. They build the mud nests one little clump at a time. Sending smiles your way, my friend.

  17. What a wonderful collection of photos and interesting tidbits, Jet. I rarely see the birds’ actual nests, but it’s fairly easy to know when the process has begun. All that flying back and forth, especially among the cardinals, doves, and mockingbirds, is easy to spot. The doves will nest atop support poles in the marina where I most often work. Those nests hardly are architectural marvels, though. Any little piles of twigs seems to do just fine.

    The funniest sight I’ve seen this year was a pair of crows walking down the side of a major road in a nearby town. They acted for all the world as though they were just out for a stroll, but one was carrying a large bundle of grasses in its beak. They must have been looking for a suitable location to begin building!

    • I sure enjoyed hearing about your nesting birds in TX, Linda, and you got me chuckling on the story of the pair of crows. It can be so entertaining to watch their antics, and the tenacity is often inspiring. Thanks very much.

  18. Love the robin, of course. I discovered a small nest on one of my walks that appears to belong to a yellow warbler (from what I’ve been told). There also is an eagle in a nearby conservancy. Those nests are much, much bigger. I haven’t seen it yet – nest or bird.

    • How wonderful for you to be in on the nests of a yellow warbler and eagle, Kristie. And what a difference in construction of those two! I hope you get to see the eagle nest, too, and have the fun of watching new birds develop. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your delightful adventure.

    • I laughed and laughed at your fun comment, Frank, because I love being part of a “bitchin’ and bodacious team.” I’m delighted you enjoyed the nest post, Frank, and thank you for this happy start to my day.

  19. This is a great post about birds and nesting time, Jet. What a wonderful collection of shots of bird nesting and quite a variety too. Also liked it that you included a bird photo from Australia – what an amazing shot of the two chicks crowing around the adult pied cormorant. I like to think they are all singing together.

    Have to agree there are many kinds of bird nests that can be built anywhere. As you showed, nests can be found on rocks and underneath houses. Once in my neighbourhood there was this tall concrete wall with greenery growing over it. Right in the middle was a bird nest and it was quite a sight when a bird flew out of it to gather twigs for it.

    I also have to agree with Sylvia that standing on the edge of the cliffs are for the birds πŸ˜„

    • I so enjoyed your visit and comment, Mabel, thanks so much. We were pretty thrilled when we found that pied cormorant with the two chicks. The country where you live is so plentiful in wildlife. I’m glad you liked that photo, it is a great one. I also loved hearing about the bird nest you found in your neighborhood, emphasizing their secretive nature. Wonderful to have you stop by, Mabel, thank you.

  20. Very enjoyable & well portrayed, Jet! The raven with twig photo reminded me of the Northwestern myth in which Raven created the world & of how we are all in it for the long run. I recently chanced upon a Canada goose nest set beside a railroad track through a marsh & once again stood amazed at how large those eggs can look. Thank you for another fine post!

    • Always a great joy to hear from you, Walt. I am a big fan of ravens and the myths, so was happy to hear you connected it too. We were able to find the nest of that raven Athena photographed, after an hour or so of searching. It’s about 100 feet up and very obscure, but we’re keeping an eye on it…much like you with the Canada goose nest. Thanks for your wonderful words today, Walt, much appreciated.

  21. Loved Nesting Time and seeing the wonderful selection of Athena’s photos! I’m always amazed at the places the little birds discover for their nests and while I’ve never had the opportunity to discover an owl or eagle nest, I’ve enjoyed watching them on EarthCam. I was excited to be able to find my first nest this spring watching the little birds fly by with nesting material. Thanks for sharing these wonderful moments!!

    • O h how delightful you got to find a spring bird nest, ACI. It is such a thrill to find them. It was great fun sharing the nesting birds with you here, and with all your outdoor and photographic adventures, I can easily see you discovering an owl or eagle nest in the future. Many thanks and cheers to you.

  22. Thanks for the interesting post. Good for the birds managing to keep relatively well under the radar while nesting! As you say, secrecy is the nature of the game.

    • Wonderful to share the nesting time with you, Carol. Since I wrote this post, much has happened with the nests. We were able to spot the ravens nest and have been watching it steadily. Fortunately for them, it is nearly invisible, though this is challenging for us to see anything. We’ve also found many more nests and check on them frequently too. Magical time of year. Hoping you are enjoying some magic in nature too. Thanks so much for your visits today.

      • Lovely to be able to keep an eye on the nesting birds. Here we have several birds that spend their summers elsewhere returning to our neighbourhood/garden, which is lovely. Several prolific autumn flowering plants are attracting sunbirds ahead of the aloes flowering in winter. It is a pleasure to visit, thank you.

  23. Looks like our swallows and chickadees are enjoying the boxes Eric put up for them. Today I learned we seem to have a Northern Pygmy Owl somewhere in the woods behind the house. We’ll both be keeping an eye out for signs of a nest. The quail bring the little chicks by once they’ve hatched, but they seem to hang out in the blackberry thickets, so we may never get a chance to see them nesting unless we’re very, very lucky! πŸ˜‰

    • Oh how fun to hear of the nesting status in your neck of the woods, Gunta. A Northern Pygmy Owl is really exciting! And the Calif. quail, well they so rarely come out with their adorable puff-ball chicks until they’re bigger, but maybe one day you’ll be lucky…I hope so. Thanks so much for your visit, much enjoyed and appreciated.

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