Bird nests are just as varied as the birds that build them. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some birds go to extremes when planning and building their nest; others get by with the bare minimum.
For most birds, nests are not homes — they’re just for raising young. Only a few species will maintain a nest as a general home base. Those that do are usually very territorial, and keep the nest site so they have a good place for next year’s babies.
An interesting nest to see is that of the oropendola, which is found from the tropical areas of Panama to Costa Rica down to Trinidad. The nests are in a colony and are quite impressive. An excellent way to see these beautiful birds and nests would be to travel to Trinidad to the exciting birding lodge that is located there.
Oropendolas live in colonies of up to 100 birds. The individual nests are woven hanging structures made of fibers and vines. Only the females build the nests. There is a dominant male who impregnates most of the females after a bowing display.
The satin bowerbird is probably the most well-known of all the bowerbirds, and has been the subject of popular wildlife documentaries. The reason it is famous is because of the length the male goes to decorate his bower to attract the female. The bower is built with twigs, and this area is the area where the bowerbird performs his extraordinary dance to attract the female.
Brightly colored objects are lined up in front of the bower. The chosen objects could be pieces of glass, bottle tops, parrot feathers, shells, flowers or even bits of plastic. The bowerbird seems to be partial to blue, most likely because the mate he wants to attract is partial to blue. The female, if she decides to accept the proposal, then builds a loose nest of twigs in a tree. Next time you travel to Australia, perhaps you can get a glimpse of this extravagant happening.
Birds closer to home also have interesting nesting habits. You may discover a cardinal nest in a tree or bush right near your house. This is not unusual. My neighbor has a nest in a vine on their trellis. The babies are quite vocal, chirping for food from their parents. A cardinal’s nest is constructed from grass, leaves and twigs, and usually hidden in a dense thicket area.
The brown thrasher buries its nest in this type of thicket area also. We had a thrasher nest several years back. Something ate the eggs and the poor thrasher left. These are the problems that nesting birds must endure. Nature’s way is the survival of the fittest. Hummingbirds make the smallest nests, which are almost impossible to find. Your best bet would be to spot a hummingbird with some twigs or leaves in its beak and follow it to the nesting site. Once in a while you can get lucky and just happen upon these tiny structures. I have had this occur more than a few times and have been fortunate to have sighted nests at eye level.
One time was at Pinecraft Park in Sarasota. The following year, the hummingbird returned to the same nesting site. The tiny nest will be constructed of tiny twigs, bits of leaves, soft threads from spider webs and maybe some moss. The eggs they lay are the size of a baked bean.
The bluebird builds its nest in a cavity. That could be a hole in a tree, a hollowed-out stump or a bluebird box, which many people erect to help preserve the bluebird population. Invasive starlings are also cavity nesters and have taken over many of the places where bluebirds might build their nests.
Bluebirds build a nice neat cup-shaped nest, tightly woven from grass, plant stems, feathers and hair. The female then lays four to six little blue eggs. In Florida, you can see bluebird boxes erected in inland state and county parks, such as the Carlton in Sarasota County.
A great crested flycatcher nested in a woodpecker box we erected on a mature pine tree. The flycatcher’s nest is made from bark, roots, leaves, feathers and anything else it takes a fancy to. We even found a snakeskin coiled around the nest. Some think this would frighten away any predators. The male is extremely protective and will be diligent about keeping other birds and predators away. Several years later, this pair nested in the purple martin house alongside the purple martins. This was quite a surprise and an occurrence not usually seen.
The nesting habits of the burrowing owl are quite different than other birds. In Florida, the owls dig their own holes in the soft sandy ground. In the western U.S., they usually use holes abandoned by other small animals. In Florida, the burrow has a surrounding of short grass or no grass.
Burrowing owls are protected, and in suburban areas you will see signs and protective barriers around their nesting holes. Please be responsible and steer clear from the protected areas, as the burrowing owls are endangered. We can observe these precious creatures in the Cape Coral area, but maintain a respectful distance.
If you hike in our area parks, you can see huge eagle nests. A new eagle nest will start out to be about five feet in diameter. Since eagles mate for life, they will return to the same nest each breeding season. They will add to the nest every year, and therefore it will become larger and deeper each year. The nest could wind up after some years to be 10 feet wide.
With today’s technology all we have to do is Google “eagle nesting” and we can watch the female lay her eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks grow into beautiful immature bald eagles. During nesting season, an eagle nest may be cordoned off. This is to protect the observers as much as the nesting birds. Many birds are extremely protective about their nest and their young.
All birders love to see nests and the babies they contain, but it’s important to be polite. This is a sensitive time, because the little ones are so vulnerable. Don’t disturb the birds!
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.