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: 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, 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. California