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: 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

 

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Welcoming Rebirth

Wild Gooseberry

I often highlight spring wildflowers that surround my home around Easter weekend, but this year is different, because our home was in the center of the firestorm that raged through Northern California last October.

 

Wikipedia 2017 Northern California Wildfires

 

All the wildflower photos here are from previous springs in my home forest; except the last two, post-fire.

Gold Wire and Ladybug

Mission Bells aka Chocolate Lily, Fritillaria affinis

 

Six months have gone by, and we are still living in temporary housing in the next county. There are many problems in the area with infrastructure, not enough repair crews, debris removal, and interminable delays. We all struggle here, in various ways.

Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana

 

Shooting Stars, Dodecathion

 

For us on our rural property, our electrical system was incinerated, so it has to be rebuilt. There is a house, but it is not habitable. Nothing physical has been done in six months, except one pile of ash and debris (once a cottage) was removed.

 

There’s plenty of activity, exhaustingly so, but it’s all paperwork and talk.

Indian Warrior, pedicularis densiflora

Redwood lily, Lilium rubescens

 

The good news started this week, when the hallowed electrical pole was at last installed.

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica

Canyon Delphinium, Delphinium nudicaule

 

Meanwhile, autumn turned to winter and the holidays came and went…and spring is right on time.

 

Although hundreds of thousands of damaged trees lie covering the ground and choking the growth urge, still, there is a stirring from underground.

 

The wildflowers are rallying.

Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata

Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale

 

Wildflowers never stay for long, they are short-lived. I have seen seasons where they only came out for two days before the rains pounded them down, or the sun parched them.

Western Houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande

Beargrass, Xerophyllum tenax

 

While there is a lot to love about wildflowers, with their bright colors and harbinger ways, what I love most about them is their wildness, their impermanence.

 

They say, “Look at me now. Not tomorrow or on the weekend.”

 

They are fleeting, as nature can be, and they say, “Look at me now, because I may not be here another day.”

Golden Violet, Viola pedunculata

 

I stand there in the rubble, looking for signs of spring. Shoots of grass are peeking through the scarred earth, the songbirds are cavorting and looking to nest, and some of the survivor trees are beginning to leaf.

 

The wildflowers, the birds, and wild mammals, too–they train us to be present in the world, wake up, and take notice of the glory that surrounds us.

 

Ferns, post-fire

 

Lilies, post-fire

 

As the earth awakens in this recently ravaged corner of the world, I listen to the sweet trill of the finch’s song, my eyes scanning the deadened forest for signs of life.

 

And somehow, I guess from studying the forest for all these years, I know that it’s going to be okay.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

The Glory of Spring

Shooting Stars

One of my favorite places to be in spring is home, especially in April as the earth is waking up. Here is a sampling of what we have seen in the past two weekends of this springtime celebration.

 

Jackrabbit

Northern California had enormous precipitation this past winter; devastating for some communities, but plentiful for all. As a result, we have had abundant new growth.

 

While there have been many gorgeous flowering fruit trees and landscaped plants in town, I especially love the spring show in the forest mountains.  Wildflowers have begun their emergence, trees express their accelerated growth, and the wildlife have new goals.

 

Indian Warrior

 

Violet-green Swallow, male; newly arrived for the spring

The bird populations change, too.

 

Year-round birds start to sing differently, busy with the activity of attracting a mate and starting a family.

 

California Quail, a year-round bird

Migratory birds that wintered here are leaving for the season, headed north to nest in their homeland. Hermit Thrushes are gone now, and every day I hear a few less Kinglets.

Black-headed Grosbeak (male); a highly anticipated spring arrival

Other migratory birds that left us in fall, are gradually returning for the warm months. The Bluebirds and Violet-green Swallows have come back, vying for the nest boxes as usual; the Olive-Sided Flycatchers have not yet returned, and I haven’t heard the California Thrasher either…but they will come along when it gets a little warmer.

 

They all remind me that cold, dreary days really are going to recede.

 

And all I need to hear is the first “spic,” to know that the Black-headed Grosbeak has returned.

 

Pacific Chorus Frog

Then there’s the nightly symphonics of the Pacific Chorus Frog at the neighbor’s pond. This little frog, about the size of my thumb, in concert with thousands of others, creates such a cacophony in the dark!

 

Lately I’ve been hearing Great Horned Owls dueting at night. Click here for this owl’s call.

 

Wild Violet

During the drought, some wildflowers didn’t bloom, some oaks didn’t produce acorns. It is their way of conserving energy.

 

This year the wildflowers are abundant. But true to wildflowers, they come and go with each day, depending on the severity of the wind and rain.

 

We can have a big patch of Indian Warriors one day, and a few days later they have already started melting back into the earth.

 

Miner’s Lettuce

Some of the flowers are bright and bold, others are subtle, like Miner’s Lettuce.

 

And the poison oak–although it is beautiful in shiny new, red leaves, is already chest-high in some places, and as daunting as ever. This plant is virulent every year regardless of drought.

Poison Oak

Western Bluebird (male)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Fence Lizard

Every season I am reminded of the  heavenly glories of life on earth. But the hope and brightness of spring, well, it a supreme pleasure.

 

Have a happy weekend, my friends~~

 

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Easter Bunny

 

 

 

Happy Easter

Prairie Dickcissel, Attwater Preserve, Texas

Prairie Dickcissel, Attwater Preserve, Texas

Warm wishes to you as we celebrate hope, renewal, rebirth~~

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

California poppies

California poppies

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California

California

A Favorite Sign of Spring

Anna's hummingbird (male), California

Anna’s hummingbird (male), California

It’s this time of year along the U.S. Pacific coast when Anna’s hummingbirds are building their nests.  Every year they are our first bird to embark on the new nesting season.

 

Calypte anna usually lay a brood of two white eggs.  A tiny collection of plant fibers, lichen, and spider webs, the 2-3 inch nest is built by the female.  It can be found 4-25 feet above the ground, and is deeply camouflaged in a tree limb.

 

Anna's hummingbird (male), California

Anna’s hummingbird (male), California

The female will incubate the eggs for 14-19 days, and feed the chicks until they fledge, about two weeks later.  The male helps out by protecting the territory.

 

Though this four inch long bird is tiny, it is fierce.

 

Every spring we dedicate an entire day to searching for a hummingbird nest, but only one year, probably about a decade ago, did we actually find one.

 

Anna's hummingbird (male) -- notice his tongue

Anna’s hummingbird (male) — notice his tongue

The female will leave the nest for brief periods, zoom to the feeders for a few good drinks of nectar, and then return to her chicks.  That lucky day we attentively watched where she went, which led us to the nest.

 

Recently we saw a female gathering nesting materials, flower fluff from a coyote shrub.  For five minutes we watched, as she came in three times.  It was windy, gusty, and she dropped the fluff the first time.  The other two times she flew up a hundred feet into fir trees, disappeared out of sight.

 

They flash across the sky and vanish into the foliage, and somewhere in the forest we know they are nesting.  Right now the males are especially ferocious at the feeders–another indication that nesting is occurring, for they are all vying for territory.  In a few weeks the antics of the fledglings will begin.

 

So many things in life are not certain,  but this start to spring is still a constant in my world.

 

An utter delight.   Happy spring!

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander