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 into winter. 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. I make sure I look up in trees and at eye level in shrubs. I look for:
- holes in trees
- at the end of tree branches
- in the forks of branches
- in shrubs and thickets
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% of the birds in North America make open nests. The cavity nesters that nest in holes in trees, are the birds that will use bird houses.
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 Things to Do:
- 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
To learn more about bird nests try the book, Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes,
which has a nice section on identifying or observing abandoned nests with drawing of typical types.
Or 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.