Right now the housing market is hot. People are in competition with one another over homes, outbidding one another by thousands of dollars. It is a somewhat similar situation for birds right now, although it’s not just this year, but every year.
As winter ends and signs of spring appear, birds in the northern hemisphere begin to search for the perfect spot to raise a family. Those who arrive early have the greatest chance of finding just the right location. Those that arrive later may struggle to find a suitable spot. The key factors in the search are to find a location and build a nest that will protect the eggs and young from bad weather and predators. The variety in shape, size and materials used is as diverse as the birds building them. Just as birds differ in the type of wild bird food they choose, so too do they differ in the choice of nest location.
There are some birds like the Piping Plovers who barely make a scrape in the sand and pebbles on a beach to lay
their highly camouflaged eggs, while at the other extreme there are the Baltimore Orioles that make an elaborately woven pouch consisting of plant fibers, strips of bark, grass, sometimes string or yarn and then lined with fine grass, plant down, or hair.
There are the familiar cup shaped nests that we learn about as children as we watch American Robins carry grass and twigs to a mud foundation and line it with fine grasses and plant fibers – often times on a platform near to or attached to our homes. A cup is what the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird makes too. Measuring only inches
across it is made with plant down and fibers and held together with spider webs and camouflaged on the outside with lichens and dead leaves.
There are the cavity nesters – those who seek holes in dead trees or a well-made wooden nest box. Black-capped Chickadees, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds all fall into this category. Even with the sturdy walls around them they will all create a soft nest of weeds, grass, feathers, and twigs to hold their eggs.
Mourning Doves use twigs to build a loose platform that looks like a precarious place to lay their eggs, while on the other end of the spectrum we have Bald Eagles which use sticks to build a massive nest, reaching four to five feet across and
weighing hundreds of pounds (or more) since they are reused year after year and new material is added each year. In the center of the nest is a softer lining of grassy material.
There are some birds, like Bank Swallows and Belted Kingfishers that build their nests right into the sides of sandy or clay banks, digging the burrow with their bills.
Once you start looking at the great variety of nests that exist, you cannot help but be impressed with ingenuity and determination that birds have in order to sustain their kind. There is a tremendous investment of physical energy in a short period of time and as people who seriously enjoy and care about birds we can and should do all that we can to assure their success.
You can do this by continuing to provide bird food at your feeders, but you can also build nest boxes, or put out yarn, dog hair, or other soft materials that they can use to line their nests. I discovered one little chickadee plucking the fuzz off of an orange tennis ball (it was cut in half) that was sitting on our deck. I never would have imagined it being a resource for a nest. Look around you and marvel at the industrious birds that live in and around us during this beautiful time of year.
By Kate Crowley