Let the Nesting Begin

Western Bluebird (male)

I’m always on the look-out for bird nests at this time of year. They’re all over, you just have to be in tune–the country or city, trees or eaves.


So far we have found five nests on our property: bushtits, violet-green swallows, western bluebirds, oak titmice, and pacific-slope flycatchers.


It takes some time to find a bird nest; it should, that’s the nature of a nest. How crafty the adult is at hiding the nest, and then keeping it a secret, is directly contingent upon the survival of the young, and ultimately the success of the species.


For the bushtits, it was a treasure hunt. One day I noticed they were a pair. Gregarious birds, they are always in flocks of about a dozen, except in spring when they pair off for breeding.


After that, I started noticing they were nearby several times a day, not just their once-a-day fly-through. Then I watched with binoculars and saw one had caught a worm and instead of gobbling it up, the bird carried it off.


Soon after, we followed the little fluffball as it disappeared into a manzanita bush. Bingo — we found a pocket of lichen in the center of the bush. You can see how hidden it is.

Bushtit nest (in center)


If you’re interested in attracting nesting birds, there are many things you can do, especially providing: food, water, shelter, safety. The main thing: be attentive.

Violet-green swallow on nest box

Info about nest boxes:

National Wildlife Federation, Nesting, U.S.

Nestbox Info and Books, England


As for finding nests, start watching bird behavior and you’ll be amazed how busy they are.

How to Nest Watch

How to Find a Nest, Canada


Good book (U.S.) with bird nest specifics: Peterson Field Guides, Birds’ Nests


This year and last, our neighbors lamented there were no more swallows in the area. What happened to the swallows? they said.


I grinned. We have them swooping overhead, all day every day, from March to June.


Here’s a previously written post about their nesting: Violet-green Swallows.


Every spring the violet-green swallows and  western bluebirds have a few weeks of territorial chest-thumping before they choose their respective houses.


Bluebird at nest box


The oak titmouse is always “our” very first songbird to nest. This year they found a cozy spot inside an old tree snag.

Oak Titmouse

It is for this reason that we keep some dead trees standing–they are a wealth of life regardless of how dead they look.


Oak Titmouse Nest Site (round hole toward top of snag)

The pacific-slope flycatchers migrate up every spring from Mexico. We have hosted so many generations of this bird that I could write their family tree.


A post I wrote about them: Generations of Flycatchers.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher on nest. Nest materials are same debris as on roof.

Many people don’t have big yards to provide nest spots. I like this story from fellow-blogger Helen at Tiny Lessons Blog. She helped engage the community in providing a new nesting place for the osprey at her local salt marsh: the fundraising efforts and the new nest.


What a wonderful thing to live where birds continue to reproduce. And there are so many ways to view the chicks, whether it’s in your yard, a community park, or from your computer via live cams.


It’s a sweet reminder of the joy of life.


Parent Pacific-slope Flycatcher with a lot to sing about

Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Violet-green Swallows

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

Every summer the Violet-green Swallows nest here in the western U.S., and I am treated to many weeks of their close presence as they vie for a nest box, then build a nest and produce a family.


They arrive every February from their winter grounds of Mexico and Central America, signalling summer is around the corner.  Usually they come for a few days, then we have a cold snap and they leave, then it warms up; and this pattern continues until one day we start to see them gathering nesting materials.  As I live in a forest full of pine trees, pine needles are the building material of choice.  I find it comical to watch both genders figure out ways to enter the one inch nest box hole with a four inch missile.  California,-VG-Swallow-front


I love watching swallows fly more than any bird on this planet.  Their acrobatics are astounding. The insect diet contributes to their dexterity in flight, for they are constantly chasing and catching bugs “on the wing.”  They eat mosquitoes and flies, wasps, moths, and winged ants to name a few.  The swallows remain our handy and organic insect control.


California,-VG-Swallow-female-on-nestboxTachycineta thalassina are found only in the American West, and only in the summer months. But there are 83 species of swallows and martins occupying the globe, and they live on all continents except Antarctica.


The violet-green swallow lays 4-6 eggs in their neat nests, and spend many weeks raising their young.  The fledglings are nearly adult size when they begin flying, and once they hit the skies the only difference they display from their parents is more wing beats and less soaring, and that’s only for a week or two.


Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

When the swallows are done breeding, usually in July, they return to Mexico in large flocks, and their cheerful incessant chee-chee chirping  ceases to exist.  Fortunately, they will be back in February on or about the very same day they arrived here last year, and the whole beautiful cycle begins again. 


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander