Kids & Nature Connections: Exploring bird nests in the fall

Submitted on Sun, 03/25/2018 - 09:39

This article originally ran in The Wenatchee World in October 2018.

Fall seems like a weird time to be talking about bird nests. Birds nest in the spring, right?

But it’s actually a great time for kids to go looking for nests. Why? Because looking for them in the spring can be difficult for children – and dangerous for the birds.

In the fall, once leaves are off the trees, finding nests can be easier and quicker. You can practice getting an eye for where they might be found. Plus, some birds nest near where they nested previously, so it’s a good way to scope out where to look in the spring.

Read on to find out more about bird nests and how to go looking for nests this fall with your kids.

Bird Nest Facts

A bird nest is just a place where a bird can lay its eggs. The most common kind of bird nest is a cup nest – the roundish thing you often see in trees made of what looks like sticks, grass, and mud. Often they are lined with soft materials like feathers, animal fur or spider webs.

However, nests can be many different shapes and sizes. A hummingbird nest can be just a tiny bit larger than a quarter in diameter, while the largest bald eagle nest recorded was 9.5 feet in diameter and weighed more than two tons - the same as a full-size truck.

Some birds nest in holes in the ground (like the kingfisher), in mud stuck to walls (cliff swallows), on platforms (raptors like eagles and ospreys), on water anchored to plants (loons), on the ground (geese), and in scraped-off ledges on cliffs (peregrine falcons).

Keep an eye out for bird nests – and keep our birds safe!

If you are planning on heading outside to look for nests, I highly recommend checking out NestWatch.org.

The biggest concern with nest watching is that watchers will hurt the birds by doing one of the following four things. They might scare the adult bird away from the nest so that it cannot or does not care for the eggs or young. They may scare the young bird out of the nest before it is old enough. They may attract a predator to a nest without realizing it. Or, they might accidentally damage a nest.

Luckily, in the fall, because there are no young birds to worry about, the main concern is damaging a nest. In the spring, there’s a longer list of do’s and don’ts, such as: Don’t visit a nest in the early morning, at dusk, at night, during the first few days of incubation, when the young birds are close to fledging (leaving the nest for the first time), or during bad weather. Don’t handle birds or eggs. Minimize disturbance at the nest. Take a different path to and from the nest, and avoid trampling vegetation to be sure not to leave an obvious path that predators can follow.

In the fall, American robin nests are commonly found. Robins usually nest in the lower half of trees on a horizontal branch – though also often on structures. The nests are made of dead grass and twigs held together by mud. You may also see American goldfinch nests, which are often near the top of shrubs or saplings. They’re held to the bush by spider silk and lined with soft material like seed heads of thistles and milkweeds. Another nest I find sometimes is the dark-eyed junco, which is usually in a little niche or ledge on sloping ground or in the root wad of a tree. It can be made of all kinds of materials.

With these tools, kids can start learning about bird nests in the fall – and keep an eye out when the snow melts for returning birds.