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Nest Building – Types, Uses and Material Used

Sep 9, 2022
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Key Concepts

  • Nest
  • Camouflage
  • Protection
  • Scrape
  • Mound
  • Pendent
  • Platform nests

Introduction

Nests: A Nest is a structure or place made or chosen by a bird for laying eggs and sheltering its young.  

Use of Nests

Although nests are usually used for breeding, some species construct special dormitory nests or roost nests (or winter nests) that are only used for roosting(resting) during the non-breeding season. 

Every year, most birds build a new nest, though others renovate their previous ones.  

Some eagles’ enormous eyries (or aeries) are platform nests that have been used and repaired over time.  

Bird nest

When do birds make nests? 

When a male and female bird form a mating pair, nest-building operations begin.  

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After selecting a nest site, nest construction begins. This can include both birds as a pair or just one gender.  

Birds make a variety of nests. Some nests are extremely simple, while others are far more complicated. 

Bird making nest

Materials used to build nests

Birds use twigs and grass to construct their nests.  

Birds also make use of a variety of other elements in their environment. 

Leaves, mosses, lichens, seaweed, mud, feathers, bird saliva, fur and hair from other animals, grass, cocoon silk, silk from spiders, and man-made materials. 

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Materials used by birds to make nest
Bird collecting animal fur to build a nest

Types of Nests

Scrape  

The scrape is the most basic type of nest, consisting of a shallow hole in the dirt or vegetation. This nest is lined with bits of grass, small stones, shell fragments, or feathers and usually has a rim deep enough to keep the eggs from rolling away. 

Scrape nest eggs and young, as well as the adults who brood them, are more vulnerable to predators and the elements than eggs and young in more sheltered nests; they are on the ground and often in the open, with little to hide them from predators.  

Scrape nest

Most ground-nesting birds’ eggs are cryptically colored to assist them in blending with the substrate on which they are deposited. 

Scrape nests are built by ostriches, most tinamous, many ducks, most shorebirds, most terns, some falcons, pheasants, quail, partridges, bustards, and sandgrouse. 

Mound

A mound nest is a relatively significant accumulation of nesting material in a tall cone or bell-shaped structure that is created on the ground.  

Several megapode species build massive mound nests from mud, branches, sticks, twigs, and leaves and lay their eggs inside.  

The eggs are warmed and incubated by the heat created by these mounds, which are essentially huge compost heaps. 

Mound nest of megapods
Mound nest of flamingos

Few mounds are likely to exceed 50 tones in weight (45,000 kg). 

Males construct and maintain the nest, while females will only begin to deposit eggs in the nest once the mound’s temperature has reached an optimal level. 

Flamingos build their nests in a unique way. They make a cone-shaped pile of mud about 15–46 cm (6–18 in) tall with a little hollow in the top to hold their solitary egg, using their beaks to drag material towards them. 

Burrow

Burrow nests are safe havens for birds and their developing young that are found within trees or on the ground. Burrows are created by birds using their beaks and feet. Burrowing owls, for example, like to use others’ burrows. 

Seabirds, particularly those living in colder climates, utilize this form of the nest because it provides protection from predators as well as the elements.  

Burrow nesting birds include puffins, shearwaters, motmots, kingfishers, miners, crab plovers, and leaftossers. 

Some burrow-nesting species, such as the European bee-eater, may have become colonial breeders due to increased exposure to predators. 

Burrow nest
Colonial burrow nests

Cavity

Birds that build nests, lay eggs, and raise their young are known as cavity-nesting birds.  

They accomplish this, however, in natural chambers like trees, rocks, cliffs, dirt mounds, and even chimneys.  

Cavity-nesting birds, unlike most birds, do not construct intricate nests from scratch. Instead, they seek refuge in cracks they discover or make.  

Cavity nest

Ornithologists (the ones who study birds) have discovered that cavity-nesting birds come in two varieties. 

Birds who build their own burrows or holes are known as primary cavity-nesters.  

This might take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the nesting requirements of the bird.  

Secondary cavity-nesting birds rely on the abandoned holes and burrows of other birds rather than digging their own. 

Cavity-nesting birds include woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens; all carry out excavation work with their long sharp-pointed beaks. 

Cup

Cup—or cupped—nests, as their name implies, are cup-shaped. To house the eggs and chicks, they are normally spherical with a deep depression in the center. 

This typical nest shape is used by hummingbirds, several flycatchers, swallows, swifts, kinglets, vireos, crests, and some warblers. 

Dried grasses and twigs are commonly used to make cupped nests, which are held together with globs of saliva. Mud and spider webs can also be used. 

Cup nest

Saucer or Plate

It looks fairly identical to the cupped nest, but it contains a shallow depression in which the eggs are placed.  

Different birds construct this type of nest, although it is unknown which birds construct this nest. 

However, it is considered that the birds who create the cupped nest also build the saucer or plate nest. 

Saucer and plate nest

Platform

The platform nest is a massive construction that is often several times the size of the (usually huge) bird that built it.  

These nests can be on the ground or raised, depending on the species. 

Raptor nests, also known as eyries (sometimes spelled aerie), are frequently used for several years, with new material added each mating season.  

Platform nest

The nests can grow large enough to cause structural damage to the tree, especially during strong storms when the weight of the nest adds to the stress on wind-tossed branches.  

Bald eagle, osprey, great blue heron, white stork, and many other raptors and large wading birds build platform nests. 

Pendant nests

These are tightly woven bags that hang from branches, providing excellent shelter from predators for the birds in the nest.  

Some are only a few feet from the branches, while others could be many feet below their attachment point. The nest is accessed by a side entrance. 

Baltimore orioles, caciques, oropendolas, and most weaver bird species are examples of birds that build pendant nests. 

Pendant nest

Sphere

A sphere or dome nest is nearly entirely enclosed, providing excellent protection and camouflage. However, because their nests are frequently on the ground or in low locations, they are more vulnerable to predators.  

The entrance to the nest is usually on the side, so it is protected from the rain. 

American dipper, marsh wren, winter wren, ovenbird, and various meadowlarks are among the birds that build sphere nests. 

Sphere nest

Birds that do not build nests 

Several bird species have no nests at all, despite the fact that birds may be quite inventive constructors.  

Some species, such as the peregrine falcon, common murre, and emperor penguin, lay their eggs in the open or in a reasonably secluded location without constructing a nest. 

Brood parasites, such as the brown-headed cowbird, lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, forsaking their parental duties altogether. 

Penguin incubating egg
Two distinct types of eggs in the nests

Summary

  • A nest is a structure or place made or chosen by a bird for laying eggs and sheltering its young.
  • Leaves, mosses, lichens, seaweed, mud, feathers, bird saliva, fur, hair from other animals, grass, cocoon silk, silk from spiders, and man-made materials are used to make nests.
  • When a male and female bird form a mating pair, nest-building operations begin.
  • The scrape is the most basic type of nest, consisting of a shallow hole in the dirt or
    vegetation.
  • A mound nest is a relatively significant accumulation of nesting material in a tall cone or
    bell-shaped structure that is created on the ground.
  • Burrow nests are safe havens for birds and their developing young that are found within
    trees or on the ground.
  • Cavity-nesting birds, unlike most birds, do not construct intricate nests from scratch.
    Instead, they seek refuge in cracks they discover or make.
  • Cup—or cupped—nests, as their name implies, are cup-shaped. To house the eggs and
    chicks, they are normally spherical with a deep depression in the center.
  • Saucer or Plate: It looks fairly identical to the cupped nest, but it contains a shallow
    depression in which the eggs are placed.
  • Pendant nests: These are tightly woven bags that hang from branches, providing excellent
    shelter from predators for the birds in the nest.
  • The platform nest is a massive construction that is often several times the size of the
    (usually huge) bird that built it.
  • A sphere or dome nest is nearly entirely enclosed, providing excellent protection and
    camouflage.
  • ‘Some species, such as the peregrine falcon, common murre, and emperor penguin, lay
    their eggs in the open or in a reasonably secluded location without constructing a nest.
  • Brood parasites, such as the brown-headed cowbird, lay their eggs in the nests of other
    birds, forsaking their parental duties altogether.

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