After courtship has taken place, the various bird species get down to the work of constructing nests for their upcoming broods. Even now in July, gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) have been gathering up nesting materials, as have house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) who have been followed around lately by the members of their first brood.
The sites they choose can vary considerably. Canada geese (Branta canadensis) tend to locate their nests at the edge of ponds if possible. In one case, a pair built their nest atop a beaver lodge.
Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) like to place their nests atop tree snags and will also use special platforms constructed by people for them. A radio tower or stadium lights, such as those at the right, will also do nicely, however.
Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) often choose shrubs and bushes; this one built her nest in a Japanese honeysuckle vine that I allowed to grow along the top of a fence surrounding my berry garden.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) seem to take the least effort in securing a spot for their nest. It is not uncommon at all to find them scratching out a very shallow depression in a parking lot, pathway or bare bit of ground. This killdeer put her nest on a patch of ground at the edge of a parking lot and, admittedly, it was not very obvious (Look carefully at the center of the photo).
Nevertheless, people were walking across this patch of ground with their kayaks and canoes that they had just unloaded and the eggs were in danger, even if the parents did their broken wing display to try and lead people away from the area.
I found a couple traffic cones and marked off the area, warning someone who had just parked nearby. Then I contacted the park rangers to tell them about it.
Fortunately, the rangers added a third cone and some tape to effectively cordon off the area.
The prize for weirdest nest sites will, in my humble opinion, always go to the Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus). People in birding groups often post messages about these birds having built a nest under the hood of a car, in an old boot left outside, inside a little-used mailbox or on a door wreath or plant pot. I have a full-sized spare tire atop a tool cabinet and last year, the wrens laid eggs there.
This year, on one of my walks, I discovered wrens who were feeding their babies in a very awkwardly placed nest inside an old cable or wire box on a neighborhood light pole.
When I visited some time later, the nest was empty so the babies must have been able to fledge.
Many birds will use both tree cavities and nest boxes, depending on what is most convenient or available. Sometimes, they make their own new nest holes in snags, like this red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus).
This Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) was very busy working on a new cavity as well. I followed her and her mate for some time but was never able to see them feeding nestlings as our area had several weeks of hard rain and the nearby lake flooded. I didn’t feel like wading through the lake to get to the snag to check up on them, even after the water had receded a bit.
Brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) chose a snag that was usually in the water at the edge of Jordan Lake. The hole faced out into the lake so the fledglings were going to have to fly out and veer left or right immediately in order to get to a resting place!
Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) will use nest holes built by themselves or other birds in previous years.
This year, the Eastern bluebird pair who frequent my yard chose not to use their usually preferred nest box. I believe it’s because they could see me watching them and they don’t like that at all! If they see me with my camera, it doesn’t stop them from flying up to the feeder or sitting on a branch near the porch. If I point the camera toward the nest box, however, they stare at me in dismay, remain on branches near the box, and refuse to go in until I shift the camera away. They did come to my feeders multiple times daily to feed their first brood (one of whom is pictured at right), once they had fledged from a nest in someone else’s yard.
To my surprise, a couple weeks back, the bluebirds chose to use a decorative nest box that I had bought for decoration. It hangs from a pole and sways in the wind and was not really sturdy. The roof began to let loose in the middle and the décor was curling up from the exposure to rain. But when I finally looked in the box when the parents were gone, I found four nestlings inside. They were pretty well grown already and I thought they might be fledging this past week. I didn’t see it, although I did watch a bit. Yesterday, I found one half of the roof on the ground and the nest was empty. I hope that the babies fledged and not that some larger bird plucked them out after the roof came off.
The materials used for nests can differ quite a lot. House wrens (Troglodytes aedon) make loose frameworks of twigs and the nests look pretty messy inside a box.
They do seek out some softer materials with which to line the nest.
Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) make beautiful cups of moss and line them with softer materials – plant fluff or hair from mammals that they find.
Cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) use mud to construct nests, often underneath bridges and rafters in more urban areas.
It is well-known that hummingbirds use spider web to help hold their nests together. Blue-gray gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea) are also known for doing this.
I was surprised a couple years ago to find a nest-building Northern parula (Setophaga americana) also collecting spider web – it appears to be a popular construction material for the birds!
I will leave you with a couple photos from one of my favorite types of nests – that of the white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). The first time I saw one being built, I was quite surprised as the birds had chosen a low sapling only about 2 feet from a pathway. They weren’t fond of me watching so I took some photos and left. When I returned some days later, they had completed the nest. (The one below is a different bird.)
The nests are obviously well-made. This year, I came across an empty nest – also in a low shrub right next to a walking path. It has withstood strong winds, heavy rainstorms and other weather. Now it is a lovely decoration for walkers to see as they pass by.
Next up in the blog series: raising babies!
Some previous blogs about nesting can be seen here and here.
Superb blog Maria. I really enjoyed it.
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Glad you enjoyed it, Karla! Thanks for letting me know.
Great photos and info Maria!
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Thanks, Tom! Glad you liked it!
Great blog & great photos! I think it’s amazing how birds can construct intricate nests with just their bills. I was watching the pair of red shouldered hawks at the Botanical Garden this spring working in new sticks to an old nest and then as a finishing touch bringing fresh greenery from pine trees to add in. And, your white eyed vireo’s nest is a marvel of construction.