Bird Nests: Different Styles and Locations

Every year I make note of the active bird nests that I see in Eliza Howell Park. The dozens of nests located in 2021 were made by 20 different species.

One of the fascinating aspects of nest watching is learning more about the varying places and structures used by different species. Here are seven examples from this year.

Eastern Bluebird Nest first observed April 5.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber

Bluebirds nest in cavities, which they do not excavate themselves. Given their practice of selecting previously made cavities within several feet of the ground, they are easily attracted to human-constructed nesting boxes. This pair was using an old woodpecker or chickadee hole in a snag by the river.

Nest-making consists of placing a loose cup of grasses and small twigs in the hole, which the pair in the photo is doing.

Killdeer. Nest first observed April 6

Killdeer nest on the ground, out in the open, in short grass or in a sandy or gravely location. They do not really make a nest, just a shallow scrape, lined, if at all, by pebbles or twigs or whatever is nearby. Their protection strategy relies largely on camouflage. Even when I know that they are nesting in a certain area, I am not always able to find the nest.

Baltimore Oriole. Nest first observed May 15

Photo courtesy of Kevin Murphy

I first spotted a Baltimore Oriole arriving in the park from its winter grounds on May 1 this year. Two weeks later they were nesting.

Baltimore Orioles build their nests in large trees, preferring those with hanging branches thick with leaves. In Eliza Howell, they use Eastern Cottonwood trees more than any species. The nest shown here, approximately 20 feet high, was in a Cottonwood that had been the site of a nest each of the last four years.

Baltimore Oriole nests are large pouches, about 6 inches long, bound to and suspended from forked twigs usually near the end of a branch. The female weaves long plant fiber and other materials into a deep cup.

The nest is entered from the top. In this photo, the female is bringing food to the nestlings.

Barn Swallow Nest first observed May 15.

Barn Swallows usually build their nests against a vertical surface, often on a upper ledge in buildings or other structures. In Eliza Howell Park, they nest under a bridge over the river and under shelters (this one was under a shelter).

The nest is a shallow and open cup, made of mud pellets mixed with some plant material. It is lined, minimally, with feathers.

The birds in this photo are young ones, about ready to leave the nest, still being fed by the adults.

Warbling Vireo Nest first observed May 19.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Murphy

Warbling Vireos nest in large deciduous trees, often high and almost always well out on a branch. Fortunately for nest watching, this one was well under 20 feet high.

The nest is a small open hanging cup, attached to twigs at the top. Vireos are small and, as can be seen in the photo, both the head and the tail of the incubating adult extend beyond the edge of the nest. The soft nest is constructed of a variety of materials — like plant down and grasses and lichen and hair — with spider webs helping to hold it together.

Song Sparrow. Nest first observed May 21.

Song Sparrows nest on the ground (as in this case) or in low shrubs / trees. The outer layer of the nest is made of dead grasses and other plant stems and finer grasses are used for the lining.

This nest was well hidden, under plant stems.I found it when the bird flew out at my feet as I walked through a part of the wildflower field.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Nest first observed May 23.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Murphy.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers nest in Eliza Howell Park every year and every year I try to find one of their nests that is visible enough to show to the participants of the annual Detroit Audubon nesting bird field trip here. Visiters find Gnatcatcher nests fascinating — as do I.

Some nests are built in a fork, but many saddle a branch, like this one. The nest is a compact rounded cup, deeper than it is wide. It is built of plant down, fine grasses, feathers, and other material, bound together and attached to the branch by spider webs. The outside is covered with lichen flakes, making it look like the branch on which it is placed.

The nest pictured here is leaning, but it was successful. The adult is feeding nestlings, who later fledged.

These seven nests provide a sense, I think, of the diversity found in the placement and construction of bird nests, a diversity that may account for the fact that I never tire of nest watching.


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