When admiring a freshly made bird nest, my grandfather would whistle and say, “they put us to shame.” He was impressed with the nests’ efficiency, beauty, and that they make them without hands. Another amazing thing about bird nests? Almost every species makes a unique type of nest.
Today, we challenge you to find at least one bird nest and try to identify the bird species who made it. Key clues to solve this mystery are:
- material the nest is made out of (leaves, moss, sticks, spit, dirt?)
- habitat type in which you found it (the woods? Near water? A field?)
- its size
- height off the ground (on the ground? In bushes? High in a tree?)
Compare your clues to the descriptions of nests at allaboutbirds.org (which has lots of other great bird information too!).
If you are quiet and patient, you might also see:
- What the eggs or chicks look like
- Parent birds coming and going
That will definitely help you figure out what kind of birds made the nest!
Some of the easiest nests to identify in Southeast Ohio are made by Baltimore orioles. They weave bag-like nests out of milkweed and other plant fibers. See the nest below on the left, and the male oriole on the right:
Spring is a great time to look for birds and their nests. Many bird species are already building nests, laying eggs, or have even hatched young birds already. Great-horned owls, for example, can begin their courtship as early as November and lay eggs well before the spring equinox.
Just watching the birds around my house this spring, I’ve seen american robins, mourning doves, european starlings, house sparrows, chipping sparrows, carolina chickadees, carolina wrens, and common grackles building nests. You can tell they are working on nests because they’ll fly down into the yard to gather straw, dried grass, moss, or twigs and then fly away.
When your nest is a hole in a tree
According to this study, about 18% of the world’s bird species actually nest in tree cavities, or holes in trees. Locally, tree cavities are nests for wood ducks, bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, great-crested flycatchers, and prothonotary warblers (1 of only 2 warbler species in the world that nests in tree cavities).
These cavities can be natural holes that form in trees when a branch breaks off or part of the tree decays. However, there is one type of bird that many other songbirds depend on for tree cavity nests–can you imagine what type of bird could make its own hole in a tree? You guessed it–woodpeckers! Many species of songbirds (338 species worldwide) depend on tree cavities left behind by woodpeckers.
Why make birdhouses?
Humans can increase the number of potential nest sites for these cavity-nesters by putting up nest boxes. This is good for the birds because they have more places to nest, and good for people because we get to see them up close, and learn more about them.
Rural Action and so many amazing volunteers have put up about 60 nest boxes in Athens and Hocking Counties over the last few years, and we check these regularly during the breeding season. The photos below document some of the species who have used these boxes.
Look at these birds’ nests–how are they different or the same?
Resources for more information and inspiration:
- A lot of great information about bird nests, especially protocol for monitoring nests: https://nestwatch.org/
- Two Ohio birds who use lichens in their nest building: http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2010/02/hummers-gnatcatchers-and-lichens.html
- Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Bird Nests
- ODNR’s Warblers of Ohio Field Guide
Your mission today:
- Search for a bird nest.When you find one, use the clues above to guess what species made it! Let us know what’s nesting near you. If you have any questions or need help figuring it out, send us questions or photos, or both!
- Create a bird nest of your own out of whatever materials you can find outside. Use another species as a model or be creative on your own. Explore these beautiful photos of nests for inspiration. Take a photo and upload it to the comments section so we can see what you came up with.
Take it further:
- Observe birds around your house or in a favorite place outside. Where do they spend most of their time? High in the trees? Around the new green tree leaves? On the ground? Can you tell what they are eating?
- Research the Louisiana Waterthrush, one of our largest species of warblers that, just like all of you, loves creeks. Where does it spend its winters? Where do they build their nests? What do they eat? Where else are they found in the United States during the breeding season?
- Become a certified nest watcher by passing the test at https://nestwatch.org/
- Read some of Ohio expert Dick Tuttle’s articles about his many years of building and managing bird boxes and his research on birds.