Be on the lookout for bird nests

Birds can pick the strangest places to nest, like in gutters, kitchen fan vents, or even right near a front door. While many birds rely on nest cavities or build elaborate structures, it’s a good reminder to be on the lookout. Depending on where you live, knowing when and where local birds assemble nests can be a great way to help them this season.

Hummingbird in wind chime. Used with permission by Chris Sanborn
Two tiny rufous hummingbird eggs in the nest with a dime for size comparison. Photo: Jon Heale, USFWS

What should you do if you find a bird’s nest?

If you find a birds nest, the best thing to do is leave it be! Many bird nests are protected by law this time of year, because they are considered “active”. Tampering with an active nest is against the law. An active nest is any nest where there are birds or eggs present. If you have a special situation where you must move the nest, you can apply for a permit but these are issued under very limited circumstances.

You never know where you might find a bird nest. These robins found the perfect spot in a pallet at Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin.

Ways to Help Nesting Birds

  • Participate in NestWatch
  • Dismiss common myths like “If you return a baby bird to its nest, the parents will smell your scent and reject it.” —
  • Landscape for birds and other wildlife — be careful how you trim your shrubs and trees!
  • Not all birds make nests! So remember, just because you find an egg doesn’t mean you should move it.

By maintaining a respectful distance from the bird nests, we can lessen the stress they feel while raising young. We certainly don’t want to detract from the incubation process and we don’t want to interfere with them in their home.

Love nests? Find a nest cam!

Bald and Golden eagle nests are always protected even when unoccupied. And it’s actually important that you get a permit to keep an unoccupied nest for educational purposes. Photo: Al McKinley/USFWS Volunteer

Several bird species make their nests out of spiderwebs and lichen, like the blue-gray gnatcatchers and some hummingbirds.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher and nest — Video: Danielle Brigida, USFWS

A number of species, including the gadwall, line the sides of their nest with feathers. We see why down works so well in our jackets!

This Gadwall nest was found on Winberg Waterfowl Production Area (WPA). Char Binstock, USFWS

The simplest nest construction is called a scrape, which is just a shallow depression in sand or soil that is often lined with stones or feathers to keep the eggs from rolling away. Many species of shorebird, terns, ducks and the killdeer pictured below, use scrape nests.

Left: Killdeer nest by Mason Sieges, USFWS || Right: Killdeer and eggs by Judy Watson, USFWS