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Bird Nests:Cradles in the Trees

March 22, 2007

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"Birds build nests secret and deep, in holes in old trees or banks that are steep. That’s when birds build their nests."Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer

Chers Amis,

Caddie and I were taking our after lunch bird walk Tuesday after noon when we heard a tap, tap, tapping.  "A woodpecker!" We scanned the woods, Caddie with eagle eyes and me with my new favorite necklace of binoculars.  More tap, tapping, but no woodpeckers. Hmm.  Then she spied movement behind an old pine snag snapped in half  by the wind and denuded by the evil pine beetle. "A downy? A yellowNuthatch bellied?  A red-bellied? It couldn’t be a piliated, too small."  Indeed! The carpenter emerged to perch on the jagged wood and was joined by his partner.  All that noise from a breeding pair of brown-headed nuthatches!  We stood still and watched as they returned to their work, pieces of rotten wood flying from a hidden hole.  Caddie crept stealthily through the woods and put her ear to the bottom of the trunk.  She was thrilled to hear them scratching and renovating the space in preparation for their nest.  A wide grin
covered her face.

Caddie’s newest nature obsession topic of research – is bird nests.  NestShe has been collecting them all winter and trying to identify them using A Field Guide to the Birds’ Nests: United States east of the Mississippi River (Peterson Field Guides(R)) (Paperback)You can see a few of her finds at the top of this lettre. Her guesses (from L-R):

  • Carolina Chickadee – this tiny nest was found in a small cavity in a fallen pine snag and is so soft!  We can only imagine what the nuthatch nest is like.
  • Northern Cardinal – a bit loose and sloppy and not a neat round cup. 
  • Winter wren – this is the most difficult as it is neatly woven with grass with a side entrance.  We’re not sure about this, but only wrens make side entrances.
  • Wood Thrush – like a robin it uses mud to make the nest firm but it is lined not with grass but fine rootlets.

She also found nests of Carolina Wrens, the ubiquitous Tufted Titmouse, and possibly a Red Tailed Hawk.  The latter is perched far to high to see well! We have found that nests are fascinating and yet much more difficult to identify than their occupants. If you are good and nests and have other IDs for the pictured nests, please let us know!Remember,  you should never take nests out of a tree as they can be reused and collecting nests in some areas is against the law. All these nest came from fallen trees or were knocked by the weather out of the thickets.

Here are some questions we put together from various sources including our favorite, Backyard Nature, to better identify and appreciate the nests we’ve come across:

Where was the nest originally  built?  above ground in a tree, shrub, tussock, tree cavity, platform; on the ground in a mound or hollow  or underground in a burrow?

What was it made of? leaves, sticks, straw, branches, pine needles, lichen, paper, hair feathers, moss, string, ribbon, plastic, grass, bark strips, spiderwebs, rocks?

Is it lined, decorated or coated with any special material? feathers, lichen, rootlets, grass,fur, hair, down, cotton, cobwebs?

Was it stuck together with anything?  mud, glue?

How big is the nest? Measure its diameter and depth

What shape is it and how was it attached?  cup shaped, a platform, scrape, adherent (attached to a flat surface), hanging from a fork of branches (pensile) or from the tips (pendulous)

What birds are the most common in your area?  compare your nest to known speciesYvonne

We found a few picture books with lovely illustrations that added to our informal study. My favorite was
Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer and illustrated by Tony Oliver. The book is written in simple verse and highlights fifteen different examples of nests from the burrow of the Spotted Paradalote to the delicate grass basket of the Golden Weaver.  Oliver’s illustrations are top notch. We also read (or will read):

Cradles in the Trees:The Story of Bird Nest
A Nest full of Eggs
The Egg
and Inside an Egg

Here are a few sites to brows if you aren’t too busy looking for nests 🙂
An on-line Nest Identification Game from the National Zoo
A Nest and Egg Activity
And for you Georgians, Wings Over Georgia: A Guide to Birding in Georgia.   It looks great!

Time to fly 🙂 We want to find more time today before Caddie’s rehearsal for the Comedy of Errors to sketch another of her  nests.(  I say this while all three are outside trying to identify an unknown moth that looks like a leaf and yesterday they found two trilliums in the woods and another mystery skeleton (large – a fox?).  Who know what we will be up to after finishing science lab write ups, math, grammar and spelling.  We do regular school too you know!)

— Marjorie

PS This site has info on nest boxes Nest box Plans for Nuthatches and Chickadees

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2007 7:05 pm

    This is wonderful! Caddie certainly has found quite a few nests. I wish I could help with the identification, but I too find it really difficult without the occupants (can only get the easy ones like orioles). We are doing a bit of nesting looking here as well – before the trees leaf out too much. You’ve encouraged me on this and I’ll probably post as well.

  2. April 13, 2007 10:25 am

    Wonderful! My sister had quite a collection of bird nests at one time. We’d take them out to decorate things with, Christmas trees or Spring decor…the differences in nests are really neat.

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