BIRD NESTS

On this page the visitor will find photos (mainly) of bird nests (with or without their owners). 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.

Bald eagles and ospreys are known to build huge nests, as this one below.

Osprey near its nest on a tiny island near Abu Dhabi City - June 4, 2014 - Sjahanmi
Osprey near its nest on a tiny island near Abu Dhabi City – June 4, 2014 – Sjahanmi

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 PEI.

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’ and has the same nesting habits.

A grey heron breeding colony in Tokushima Central Park, Shikoku Island, Japan. Note the large twig nest on the left.
A grey heron breeding colony in Tokushima Central Park, Shikoku Island, Japan. Note the large twig nest on the left.
It is a strange sight to have these tall 'water' birds in colonies perched at the top of large mature trees. Tokushima Central Park.
It is a strange sight to have these tall ‘water’ birds in colonies perched at the top of large mature trees. Tokushima Central Park.
Grey heron on the Kamo River. Kyoto
Grey heron on the Kamo River. Kyoto

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Here’s an example of a ‘mixed’ colony in New Zealand, on a tiny rocky island near the Kaikoura peninsula on the South Island, with a photo of the birds in that colony:

Spotted shags on black-billed & red-billed gull colony rock - off Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Spotted shags on black-billed & red-billed gull colony rock – off Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Red-billed gull on a rocky edge. From the amount of guano, it seems like a favorite hangout spot for the birds. Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Red-billed gull on a rocky edge. From the amount of guano, it seems like a favorite hangout spot for the birds. Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Black-billed & red-billed gull colony rock - Kaikoura, NZ
Black-billed & red-billed gull colony rock – Kaikoura, NZ
Spotted shag juvenile on pebble beach - near Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Spotted shag juvenile on pebble beach – near Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Black-billed gull ringed on both legs - Christchurch Botanic Garden - NZ
Black-billed gull ringed on both legs – Christchurch Botanic Garden – NZ

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:

Kaena Point on Oahu, Hawaii
New Zealand

Here on PEI, the endangered piping plover makes its nest on the beach. There are measures in place to 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.

Common yellowthroat nest with eggs - PEI - June 23, 2017 - © Chris Rice
Common yellowthroat nest with eggs found on the ground – Undisdlosed location in PEI – June 23, 2017 – Chris Rice

Bank swallows nest in colonies along shore banks or gravel or sand pit slopes, near the top:

Bank swallow nests - Red Point Provincial Park, PEI - © Marie Smith - June 29, 2017
Bank swallow nests – Red Point Provincial Park, PEI – © Marie Smith – June 29, 2017

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:

Kaena Point Coastal Reserve sign at the fenced and gated entrance on the north side trail. Oahu, Hawaii.
Kaena Point Coastal Reserve sign at the fenced and gated entrance on the north side trail. Oahu, Hawaii.
Double gate & fence at Kaena Point Coastal Reserve, Oahu, Hawaii
Double gate & fence at Kaena Point Coastal Reserve, Oahu, Hawaii. Note the device outside to wipe one’s shoe soles.
Laysan Albatros with egg - Kaena Point, Oahu
Laysan Albatros with egg – Kaena Point, Oahu
Injured wedge-tailed shearwater - Laniakea Beach, Oahu
This wedge-tailed shearwater was likely injured otherwise it would not have been in this very public and high traffic place near the road. – Laniakea Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

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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), which is rare in PEI, 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 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.) Although I don’t have photos or videos (yet) to illustrate it, I have seen European starlings getting in and out of the hollow street light poles at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and Kinlock Road in Stratford. They seem to have made a nest in there.
The Common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), which is rare on the island, is an interesting case. In natural settings it will build its nest on the ground, but in cities it will settle on flat roofs with gravel, but with a decrease in these types of roofs, the bird population also decreases 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.
American robins
have a reputation for building their nests near or on buildings such as houses, as the photo below shows.
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 (photo below). 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.

This large barn swallow nest seems unoccupied. Tokushima.
Barn swallow nest. The various colors show a different origin for the materials used. Tokushima, Japan.
American robin on nest - Summerside, PEI - June 21, 2017 - © Marie Smith
American robin on nest – Summerside, PEI – June 21, 2017 – © Marie Smith
Barn swallows on new nest -Tokushima
Barn swallows starting a new nest -Tokushima, Japan.
Song Sparrow nest - Summerside, PEI - June 2016 - © Marie Smith
Song Sparrow nest – Summerside, PEI – June 2016 – © Marie Smith
Lucy on her nest in Ch'town - PEI, June 15, 2016
Lucy on her nest in Ch’town – PEI, June 15, 2016
This is where the swallows make their nests. They choose the ballast joints of the neons, likely because it gives them a little more space and heat. Tokushima, Japan.
This is where the swallows make their nests. They choose the ballast joints of the neons, likely because it gives them a little more space and heat. Tokushima, Japan
American Robin nest with eggs - May 10, 2014 - © Kathy McCormack
American Robin nest with eggs – May 10, 2014 – © Kathy McCormack

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BIRD HOUSES

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 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)  :

https://www.thespruce.com/birds-that-use-bird-houses-386624

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an authoritative source of information for all things birds including bird houses:

https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/#plans

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.

Another human contribution is the ‘hen house’ built to attract Mallard females on ponds or other wetland. However as can be seen below it is not always necessarily occupied by the desired species. The bill inside looks like that of a Common Loon.

Eastern Bluebird pair on nest box - July 1, 2017 - Kathy McCormack
Eastern Bluebird pair on nest box – July 1, 2017 – Kmac
Bird of prey nest on electrical pole - possibly red-tailed hawk, Stratford PEI Aug. 9, 2015
Bird of prey nest – possibly red-tailed hawk, on electrical pole – Stratford PEI Aug. 9, 2015 – © Denise Motard
Blue Jay on bird house near O'Leary, PEI - Feb. 9, 2018 - © Jodi Arsenault
Blue Jay on bird house near O’Leary, PEI – Feb. 9, 2018 – © Jodi Arsenault
Osprey nest behind Wood Islands Lighthouse - PEI, June 24, 2016 - © Denise Motard
Osprey nest behind Wood Islands Lighthouse – PEI, June 24, 2016 – © Denise Motard
Mallard 'Hen House' - Scales Pond, PEI - May 6, 2018 - © Marie Smith
Mallard ‘Hen House’ – Scales Pond, PEI – May 6, 2018 – © Marie Smith
Osprey on its nest - Summerside, PEI - Apr. 19, 2017 - © Marie Smith
Osprey on its nest – Summerside, PEI – Apr. 19, 2017 – © Marie Smith
The same Mallard 'Hen House' now occupied - Scales Pond, PEI - May 27, 2018 - © Marie Smith
The same Mallard ‘Hen House’ now occupied – Scales Pond, PEI – May 27, 2018 – © Marie Smith

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NESTS IN TREES

This section shows photos of bird nests in trees:

American Goldfinch nest with 3 eggs - Margate area, PEI - Aug. 3, 2017 - © Chris Rice
American Goldfinch nest with 3 eggs – Margate area, PEI – Aug. 3, 2017 – Chris Rice

OTHER NESTS

Below are photos of some other bird nests found on the island, but with no known owners. There are ways of identifying them however, if someone would like to volunteer they are welcome.

Bald eagle or Osprey nest - Robinson Island, north side, PEI - Dec.21,2014 - © Denise Motard
Bald eagle or Osprey nest – Robinson Island, north side, PEI – Dec.21,2014 – © Denise Motard
Large bird's nest along Winter River trail - PEI, Jan.29.2015
Large bird’s nest along Winter River trail – PEI, Jan.29.2015
Bird's nest, Winter River trail PEI Jan.29.2015
Bird’s nest, Winter River trail PEI Jan.29.2015
A bird nest in a beauty bush plant (Linnaea amabilis) in Stratford, PEI.
A bird nest in a beauty bush plant (Linnaea amabilis) in Stratford, PEI.

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