Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © Melissa Sherwood

NestWatcher Finds Surprise Nester in Birdhouse

When Melissa Sherwood wrote to NestWatch asking if it was unusual for a Dark-eyed Junco to nest in a birdhouse, we initially thought it was a case of mistaken ID. We told her that juncos don’t nest in cavities, as they are known to be open-cup nesters (although they will nest in crevices or crannies near the ground).  

As you may have guessed, she was vindicated. When she submitted the photographic evidence from her Washington home, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Never say never, even when it comes to a very common species.

We searched the NestWatch database to see if anyone else had ever reported this phenomenon, and found an instance of a junco nesting in an open-fronted nest box (the kind designed for Carolina Wrens). We found no other instances in the literature, nor in the historic nest record cards that pre-date our NestWatch project. As far as we know, this is the first instance of Dark-eyed Juncos nesting in an enclosed birdhouse. 

Interestingly, our search of the scientific literature revealed two historical mentions of Dark-eyed Juncos nesting in old woodpecker holes, but both sources were more than 100 years old! If cavity nesting is a small and rarely-observed part of their nesting repertoire, that makes Melissa Sherwood the first person in over a century to witness it!