2016-08-11 / Nature

Nests Aren’t Just for Birds

By Jack Kelly


Baltimore oriole Baltimore oriole Depending on the time of year, nests can offer an insight into the life cycle of avian species. Resident adult birds nest earlier in the spring, while migrant adults nest later in the spring and early summer. Most birds build nests in the coverage and protection offered by shrubs, scrub brush, trees, tree cavities, and even in barns and outbuildings. Styles of nests are as varied as the birds themselves.

Some examples of common nests found locally are:

The American robin builds its nest at just about any height in a variety of habitats, but generally in a protected place where a thick limb branches. Robins are also known to build nests in barns and other types of buildings. The nest is a mud cup about 3 inches across; in summer it is lined with a thin layer of fine grass.

Baltimore orioles, migrants to our region, build bag-like or pouch-like nests woven out of fibers, most commonly stripped from decaying milkweed plants. The nests hang high in deciduous trees and near the tips of branches.


Ruby-throated hummingbird Ruby-throated hummingbird American goldfinches make neat, solid cups out of plant fibers and line them with thistle down. These nests are usually found on branches of deciduous trees in mostly open territory such as wetlands, the edges of fields and in suburban areas.

The least flycatcher, a petite migrant from South America, builds a narrow (1.5 inch-opening) but deep nest cup which is constructed in a tree usually near a thick vertical fork in a branch. The nest is almost hidden by the branch and offers protection from predators. This species nests near water to sustain its diet of insects.

Red-winged blackbird nests are found in open marshes and wetlands. The birds build their nests in tufts of grass, bushes, and cattails within a foot of the ground or water.

The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird builds a walnut-sized nest with lichens to mimic bumps on the tree limb. They are lined with soft plant down.

Resident woodpeckers, such as the downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and northern flicker, nest in cavities of trees or will drill out cavities in dead trees. For more information on various nesting species, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at nestwatch.org or allaboutbirds.org.

The Friends of Ballard Park is offering a children’s educational nest identification walk on Thursday, Aug. 18, from 1-2:30 p.m. This program is recommended for children ages 6-12, and is part of a month-long nature educational series. Nests aren’t just for birds, as the children will learn as they hike the park and examine trees to discover what birds and animals live in them. Children will also have an opportunity to make their own nests. The fee is $5 per child; adults are free and encouraged to attend. Pre-registration is recommended by contacting 401-619-3377 or education@ballardpark.org.

What’s That Sound?

The Norman Bird Sanctuary will host an educational program about nocturnal creatures on Wednesday, Aug. 17, from 8-9:30 p.m. Participants of all ages will learn about creatures that wake up when the sun sets, creating a symphony of nighttime clicks, croaks, trills, howls and more. After learning how to differentiate between the sounds of birds, frogs, insects and bats, the group will head out to the trails for an evening hike. Bring your backyard questions! Pre-registration is highly recommended at normanbirdsanctuary.org or 401-846-2577. The fee is $8 for members and $10 for non-members.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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