Wildthings Public Wildlife Education

Backyard Birds (part 2/ nesting)

      Making a nest is a very personal thing.  A big part of that comes from the availability of building supplies.  For instance a Robin will always try to make a deep cup nest, but what he uses for that nest depends on what is available to him/her.  Think of it this way; if an apartment building has ten apartments in it all apartments start out the same, then as people move in they add their personal touches to their apartments.  Just as that bird does when it picks up the string, dog hair, plant down, or whatever else out of your yard to add their personal touch to their nest.  Keeping this in mind, I will try to cover a few of the different types of nests you may find in your yard.

    One of the most common nest types is the "cup".  Most songbirds use a variation of the cup nest.

A Robin makes a cup nest, but they prefer a deep cup nest.

                 picture of American Robin

     Another example of a cup nest is the Hummingbird nest.  All Hummers make sturdy nests but they usually perch them on precarious sites, like on two small branches or a wire.  It looks like it could fall off at any moment.  Don't worry, mom has planned for this, she weaves anchors to the branch to help stabilize the nest.  It would take quite a storm to throw this little nest out of the tree.    Anna's Hummingbird Nest

     The Anna's Hummingbird nest to the right is lined with plant down and spider silk. 

     Now the Rufous Hummingbird does something a bit unusual.  In some areas of the country they make two nests.  One is made around April and  is built for colder weather.  It's placed on a low branch of a conifer tree where its warmer and the door to the nest is more protected.  The second nest they make in June and is high up in a leafy tree.  Then the evaporation off the leaves can help with cooling of the nest, and the door is placed more open to a breeze.  This is the nest that they raise their family in.

     Swallows are a good example of nesting variety within bird families. 

 Tres pile up.  Photo by Bet Zimmerman.

    Those above are Tree Swallows.  They make a cup nest, preferably high in the trees.  Tree Swallows are really suffering from loss of habitat.  Thanks to everyone that puts up a nesting box they are still able to thrive!   

 Barn Swallows nest off bridges and around the eves of buildings, or in old buildings.


Picture of Swallow Nests

  England - Date unknown © Andy Bright      

             Bank Swallow                           Cliff Swallow                               Barn Swallow

    Bank Swallows will tunnel into the soft muddy earth, and way in the back they put feathers & leaves to lay their eggs on.  Their nest and all the tunneling is labor intensive enough that a lot of times they will return to the same nesting site. Usually Bank Swallows nest in huge communities sometimes with hundreds of birds.


   Magpies make more of a ..... house, than a nest.  They make these huge domed nests with a door.  They use large twigs to form the dome part, and then use smaller softer material to make a nest inside.  The nests inside the large dome are built in the "cup" form.  Magpies like to nest high up in large trees, like Cottonwoods.  They will spend up to 40 hours working on these magnificent nests.


  Then there is the other extreme, like the Poorwills who lay their eggs right on the ground.  This sounds harsh but it works.  From the pictures below you see how hard it is to see the eggs, middle of left picture, and then to see mom on the eggs, middle of right picture.  She relies on camouflage to keep them safe.

Pennant-winged_Nightjar_nestcopy.jpg Pennant-winged Nightjar nest image by nkgray    female_P-WNightjar-copy.jpg female Pennant-winged Nightjar on nest image by nkgray

       Nest thieves: The Black-Headed Grosbeak runs around and steals pieces/parts from other nests to put into theirs.  Then there are those other birds that would rather steal someone else’s finished nest than put the hard work into making one of their own.  Sparrows steal from Martins, forcing the Martins eggs onto the ground, and in turn Starlings steal from Sparrows tossing their eggs onto the ground......so I guess what goes around comes around?!?  The Cowbird is one of the laziest of all though. They lay their eggs in another birds nest and leave the raising of their young to the other bird.  So, like with a lot of adoptions, the kids look nothing like the parents. 

     Most of the birds you find in your backyard, with the exception of water birds or raptors, are on roughly the same time frame for raising their family.  They will lay 2-8 eggs, it will take 2-3 weeks for mom to incubate them, and then it takes 2-3 weeks before they are ready to leave the nest.  Once out of the nest it will take another week or two before they are flying and know how to find food on their own.  The smaller the bird usually the faster they grow up.  A Sparrow is quicker to get on their own than a Magpie is. 

   Purple Martin Gourd   Musical Retro Chic Birdhouse   Gazebo Wild Bird Seed Feeder  Redwood Wren House     It is OK to feed the birds in your backyard.  It won't hinder their ability to find native foods.  It's OK to put out bird houses or nesting boxes.  It helps balance out some of the negative effect we have had on wildlife.  To some of these species it may determine  their future.

    If anyone has any questions on building nest boxes or any other wildlife question feel free to contact us!