Finding Abandoned Bird Nests

abandoned bird nest
abandoned bird nest

Searching for abandoned bird nests in winter is a favorite activity of mine. With trees and shrubs bare of leaves, what was hidden is now visible. What we see in winter are the nests that were strongly built and were able to last through harsh weather. The nests built on the ground, in depressions or in sand, are all disintegrated by now. The nests that remain have survived rain, snow, and heavy winds.

Where to Find Abandoned Bird Nests

  • holes in trees
  • at the end of tree branches
  • in the forks of branches
  • in shrubs and thickets
Tree snag with den and nest holes
Tree snag with den and nest holes

Who Made the Nest?

It is hard to tell what species made a nest without eggs or birds.  I like to observe what materials the nests are made from. This way I know what materials to offer in nesting season. Putting out nesting materials brings birds to my backyard habitat.

Here are some things to observe about nests.

  • Is the nest flimsy or substantial?
  • Shape – Is the nest cup-shaped, pouch, platform or another shape?
  • Foundation – Does it sit in a fork of branches?
  • Is there a layer of mud inside the nest?
  • What is the nest made of?

Of all the birds in North America, 77% make open nests. The cavity nesters that nest in holes in trees, are the birds that will use bird houses. See Choosing a Nest Box.

After locating a nest, I like to photograph them, I don’t disturb the nests because some of these nests will be used by mice as a den in harsh weather.

Nature Journal Prompts – Bird Nests

  • make sketches or photos of abandoned bird nests
  • take photographs of nests and tape them in your nature journal
  • try to guess who made the nest

I hope this post proves helpful on your walks and hikes as he weather turns cold. As always feel free to add your comments or questions in the comments below.

Recommended Field Guides

The links below are affiliate links. I receive a small fee which helps with the hosting of this site.

Eastern Bird Nests by Hal H. Harrison (Peterson Field Guide) which I think has the same photos from the 1978 version even though the copyright is 1998. Perhaps, the text was updated and not the photos. But being a Peterson guide it is an excellent book.

Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds by Paul Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison does not have photos or illustrations of nests, just descriptions of the common nest type each bird builds. It is a good reference for chicks and eggs.

Bird Tracks & Sign : A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch, et al. 

abandoned bird nest
abandoned bird nest

Related Posts

Winter Animal Signs 

Cavity Nesters: Birds that Use Holes in Trees 

Forest Forensics: A Wolf Tree Tells a Tale

Birdhouses: Choosing, Maintaining, and Attracting the RIght Birds

Insects in Winter


  1. There is a brand new Peterson nest guide that just came out late this year that I think you might enjoy. It’s a phenomenal update to the classic Hal Harrison guide. It is the Peterson Field Guide to North American Bird Nests by Casey McFarland, Matthew Monjello, and David Moskowitz. Here’s a nice interview with Casey McFarland on it:

    • Hi Eric, Thanks for letting me know. I certainly will check it out. I’ll also let this blog’s community of readers know, too. 🙂

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