Story and art by Raisa Kochmaruk, Cornell Class of ‘21
Earlier this year, we issued a friendly challenge to get you to think outside of the [nest] box when it comes to finding nests. There are common birds nesting all around us that NestWatch wants to hear about, and it only takes a little bit of know-how to find them. To help you join the challenge, we’ve picked five beloved backyard birds that frequently nest near people. Feel free to download and keep these original illustrations as a reminder to keep your eyes trained for a nest this year. If you find a nest, we would love for you to report your observations to us.
The Mud Molder
You’ll spot this medium-sized bowl-shaped nest about 5-25 feet off the ground in a tree, shrub, or on a building. The construction is distinctive because of the thick mud used to hold it together, which its builder painstakingly transports by the beakful during building season. Between the layers of mud which hold the nest together, fine, dry grasses poke out in all directions. The bird who created this nest is non-migratory, and can be seen all year throughout the United States, although they appear in greater numbers during the summer in Canada and are seen more commonly in the Southern states and Northern Mexico during colder months. These poised and purposeful workers will use their wrists to press the mud into the grasses, building their nests from the inside out. Learn to identify the nest of an American Robin here!
The Bulky Basketmaker
This next nester builds a large, messy cup of sticks, grasses, and sometimes even mud, which is then lined with small roots. Nests can be found 10 to 25 feet above the ground, in both coniferous and deciduous trees, placed between major forked and outer branches. Both the male and female collect materials, but the female does most of the building. Live twigs are broken off to build such a nest and the pair will often fly long distances to bring back the roots they’ve dug from shallow ditches. Although these bright residents of the Eastern United States are known for being noisy and bold, they have intricate social systems and family bonds that stay strong throughout the year. Form your search image of a bulky Blue Jay nest now.
The Resourceful Weaver
Thin woven fibers comprise this distinctive hanging nest, which has a large bottom chamber to house the eggs. The female builds this pouch-like nest by first hanging long fibers over a branch, tangling them with her long beak, and then adding material to strengthen the nest before lining it with softer natural fibers and downy feathers. Some of the items she may collect include fishing line, twine, horsehair, grapevine bark, and cellophane. Elms are the favored nesting trees of these birds, and the nest either will hang completely from a forked branch or be placed against the trunk. Creating this nest takes weeks, and although the males may help gather building materials, females are the sole architects. These migratory songbirds spend their winters in central and northern South America, and keep to the Eastern United States and South-Central Canada during the summer. Look for the woven wonder of the Baltimore Oriole nest in a relatively open spot.
No Baltimore Orioles where you live? Bullock’s Orioles also weave a similar hanging nest!
The Twig Tamer
The female of this species is the primary architect—a common trend among nest-building birds—although the male does supply her with materials for building and with food while she’s nesting. She’s resourceful, too, and uses her thick beak to crush twigs until they are bendable, pressing them into a nest shape with her body. Several ingredients comprise her nest: coarse twigs, a leafy barrier, grapevine bark, grasses, stems, small roots, and pine needles. Mated pairs of this species have an interesting technique for deciding where to build their nest: the female will visit potential sites, with the male following close behind, all the while calling to each other with special songs until they decide on a spot. Their nests will usually be found wedged into forked branches of saplings and vines, such as dogwood, honeysuckle, rose bushes, hemlock, and blackberry brambles. Look carefully into a thick shrub nearby to see if you can find the lovely Northern Cardinal nest.
The Fluff Stuffer
This small, teacup-shaped nest can be spotted three to ten feet off the ground in a small tree or shrub, typically in open woodlands or overgrown fields. The nest is composed of milkweed, thistle, and other fluffy or stringy plants that grow in fields, floodplains, roadsides, yards, and orchards. Its maker can be seen year-round in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, and also in the Northwest, except for California and western Oregon. These small, strictly vegetarian birds wait for their preferred nesting materials to grow and seed before they lay their clutch, as the seeds provide nourishment for newly hatched young. These swift little birds build their nests in three steps: first, twigs are connected by spider silk, then a tighter cup of small roots and debris is woven inside, and finally, soft, downy material is used to cushion the very center of the nest. Can you spot the late-season nest of the American Goldfinch in July and August?
Live in the West? Try searching for Lesser Goldfinch nests instead.
You can learn more about bird nests across the continent on our Common Nesting Birds tool.