On this page the visitor will find photos (mainly) of BIRD NESTS (with or without their owners) and of BIRD HOUSES (further below). As fascinating as watching birds can be, their nests are also quite interesting. The location of the nest, the materials used to build it, and their size vary across the bird population. This page here describes the various types of bird nests found in Nature.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
As they say in the real estate industry, location is of prime importance for a good quality residence. Birds are no exception, but for them the location of their nest is a high-stake undertaking. It can mean success in raising a new generation or failure to do so, when for example predators will raid the nest.
Seabirds will build their nest on top or along cliffs on the coast or on small islands near the coast. Many of them establish colonies, which sometimes can be huge. Sometimes the colonies are ‘mixed’, with different species sharing the same space. Others will choose the top of trees for their colony.
A good example of the latter is the Great Blue Heron. Their colony is called a ‘heronry’ . Herons need large and sturdy trees due to their size. They use the same nests year after year, and because of this eventually the trees die from guano buildup and the herons need to start a new colony elsewhere. There is one such heronry on a small island on the Hillsborough river in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
In addition to animal predators, the heronry is vulnerable to humans during the nesting season. If chicks are disturbed and fall off the nest, they can’t fly back up into the nest and the parents stop feeding them. They will either starve or fall prey to other animals.
The photos below show a nest by the Grey Heron (ardea cinerea) and some of those birds in a heronry in Japan. The grey heron is similar to the great blue heron and has the same nesting habits.
Nesting on the ground is a frequent behavior of birds, although fraught with risks. Most of the time the birds that nest on the ground do so in isolated areas such as small islands. Unfortunately, many such islands have been invaded by predators introduced by humans, notably rats, cats, and mongoose. Measures are now being taken to eradicate feral predators from those islands or other vulnerable nesting areas. Examples:
On Prince Edward Island, Canada, the endangered Piping Plover makes its nest on the beach. There are measures in place to actively protect the bird during the nesting period, such as beach fencing and interdiction of dogs. For more information on this the reader can check here: http://www.islandnaturetrust.ca/projects/piping-plover-conservation.
Bank Swallows nest in colonies along shore banks or gravel or sand pit slopes, near the top:
The Laysan Albatross and the Wedge-tailed Shearwater below are two birds directly benefiting from the large fence (with double doors) built at the Kaena Point Coastal Reserve in Hawaii to keep off rats, mongoose and dogs:
Other species of birds will use human-built structures to build their nest, or to build it close to them. In this, birds and humans can sometimes clash as their territories will overlap.
The Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) builds its nest inside the vertical wall of a chimney. The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) can build its nest near a house or right onto some house structure, such as this one who used a Christmas wreath. (I once had a nest of robins on top of a window frame of my house in Quebec.)
Birds can also use a rural mailbox to build a nest. [When I was living in rural Quebec, one morning I picked a pale blue egg with my mail, courtesy of a European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) that had started a nest inside the mail box.] These birds can also make a nest in the hollow pole of street lights at the top.
The Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), in natural settings, builds its nest on the ground. However in cities it will settle on flat roofs with gravel. Unfortunately there is a decrease in these types of roofs, so this bird’s population also decreased accordingly.
The Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica), as its name implies, is well known for building its nest on and inside barns. However for lack of a barn, this swallow will readily use other human-built structures, as seen below. In this case the barn swallows nested on the ballasts of neon lights of a strip mall in downtown Tokushima, Japan, a city of around 250,000 people.
The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) nest below was built on the ground under a hedge in front of the photographer’s house.
An interesting case is Lucy the Duck, an American black duck who has consistently built her nest among the plants for sale at the Atlantic Superstore in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. It’s a sheltered protection from predators, and the nursery staff are helping shield her from visitors as well. Every year a special police patrol helps her and her ducklings cross the busy University Street to the other side, where she lives in a nearby marsh (see video below).
This tendency for some bird species to use human-built structures or a natural cavity for nesting has contributed to the development of a bird house ‘industry’. Building a bird house can be a popular hobby for a school project or a family, or a full time job for some enthusiasts. There’s all kinds of models and plans available in terms of materials, size and number of ‘units’, and which bird species they are intended for. Some models are affordable and easy to build, while others are more complicated and expensive. There are a few points to consider when buying or building a birdhouse:
You or the birds? Are you buying/building that birdhouse primarily to match with your landscaped backyard, for example, or are you first ensuring the birdhouse will meet the needs of the species you’re trying to attract? (Good planning could achieve both goals.)
What birds? Many bird species nest in cavities and will readily use human-built houses if available. However each species has its own needs in terms of size, location, etc. What are the bird species around your area? Which one(s) do you want to attract with a birdhouse?
Once you have identified the species you want to attract, then it’s a matter of choosing the appropriate materials, house size, location (safe from predators including the house cat) and other needs for that bird species.
Here are some sources of information on birdhouses (that website also shows links to many other birdhouse related topics) :
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an authoritative source of information for all things birds including bird houses:
One particular case of this human contribution to bird nesting is the building of platforms at the top of poles for birds of prey such as eagles and ospreys (photos below). Some of those birds are also known to build a nest on top of electrical poles (see photo below), a less desirable location as the birds risk electrocution and humans risk power outages.
NESTS IN TREES
This section shows photos of bird nests in trees:
Below are photos of some other bird nests found on Prince Edward Island, Canada, but with no known owners. There are ways of identifying them however, if someone would like to volunteer they are welcome.