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March 9, 2013 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Empty Nests

One of the citizen science projects I participate in is Project NestWatch, a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds. Nests are monitored by volunteers every three or four days and observations are recorded on the NestWatch website.

Before you can monitor a nest you need to know where to find them. Winter is the best time to learn where to look for nests. They are much easier to find after the leaves have dropped off the trees and shrubs. Most birds will not re-use an old nest, but they may build a new one close by or in a similar tree or location.


I found the nest above a few weeks ago while walking around the frozen pond along my favorite trail. I must have walked past it several times a week last summer and never noticed it when the birds were there so I’m not sure who built it. From the tiny size and its location in a small shrub, about three feet off the ground, it could be a Hummingbird nest.

Goldfinch Nest

Above is an American Goldfinch nest. It was in the Maple tree in my front yard. I knew the birds were there but I couldn’t spot the nest until the leaves fell from the tree.

Oriole Nest

This is an Oriole nest. It was in a Willow tree near a large pond. Their nests are built like a hanging basket, usually woven out of plant material. Sometimes they incorporate artificial fibers such as twine, cellophane or ribbons.

Barn Swallow Nest

This nest was built by Barn Swallows and was one of the nests I monitored last summer. It was in the roof of a pavilion in a local park. They will also build in the eaves and rafters of barns and sheds and under bridges. The nest is constructed of mud pellets mixed with grass stems. Occasionally they will re-use a nest but more commonly they will build a new one a few feet away on a nearby beam. I’ve monitored several nests in this pavilion.

Project Nestwatch is open to most anyone in the US that would like to volunteer to be a monitor. Check out the NestWatch website for more information.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Louise / Mar 9 2013 2:26 am

    Such a fascinating post (as always) Leslie. And what a great project you’re involved in. The differences in the nests are extraordinary.


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:54 pm

      Until I got involved in Project NestWatch I didn’t realize how different they were.


  2. laurelrainsnow / Mar 9 2013 4:57 am

    Wow, what intricate nests these are…and more noticeable in the bare branches. Empty nests….like my house! lol

    Thanks for sharing…I always learn something new here. Here’s MY SATURDAY SNAPSHOT POST


  3. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Mar 9 2013 6:14 am

    They really do work hard building these nests.


  4. BermudaOnion / Mar 9 2013 6:52 am

    I notice nests this time of year too. It’s getting close to nesting time around here. I think the geese that nested here last year have returned.


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:53 pm

      The geese are already very active here too. I expect to see some nests in the next month.


  5. Susan / Mar 9 2013 6:58 am

    It’s funny that you’ve posted about nests this week, as I was looking at nests in the trees as I took a drive with my husband this week … They really pop out at you when things are all bare and there’s a backdrop of white snow to highlight them!


  6. readerbuzz / Mar 9 2013 8:35 am

    I think this is the first time I’ve ever looked closely at a nest. Thank you.

    Here’s my Saturday Snapshot.


  7. Paulita / Mar 9 2013 8:58 am

    Very cool nests. I have a big, messy squirrel nest in a tree in my front yard. Why are birds so neat and squirrels just seem to slap everything together. Here’s Mine


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:52 pm

      I am amazed those squirrel nests don’t fall out of the trees… they really are messy.


  8. Sheila (Book Journey) / Mar 9 2013 9:15 am

    You answered one of my questions, would birds use an old nest. I have one we found last fall that I now have in our entryway, I think nests are awesome to look at us close…. how do they ever do all that with their beak and feet?


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:51 pm

      I watched a robin build her nest (yes, the female is the engineer) by weaving plant material and sticking it together with mud. And no one teaches them, they just know how.


  9. Beth Hoffman / Mar 9 2013 9:18 am

    Ever since I was a little girl and watched barn swallows build a nest in our barn I’ve been fascinated. Though Ive seen a lot of nests in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that of a hummingbird. Thanks for sharing these!


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:46 pm

      I’m not 100% positive it’s a hummingbird nest, but I have seen hummers in that park and that nest was really tiny.


  10. Arti / Mar 9 2013 9:41 am

    I see nests a lot but never know to whom they belong. This is another category of knowledge altogether. Thanks for this interesting post!


  11. Elizabeth / Mar 9 2013 9:59 am

    Wow….so interesting. I never knew they all made different nests.

    The Oriole nest is VERY different and unique. I will have to check out a Barn Swallow’s nest…I am curious how they get into it. 🙂

    THANKS so much for sharing.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My Saturday Snapshot


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:45 pm

      There’s just enough room up there for mom to sit on the nest until the babies can stick their heads up. I have a few pictures in this post. I’ll have to do a series of moms sitting on nests this spring.


  12. Nise' (Under the Boardwalk) / Mar 9 2013 10:41 am

    I’ve always wondered if I could/should remove the old nests that reveal themselves when the leaves fall! Interesting the different types of nests, I will be more observant in the future.


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:33 pm

      According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act we are not supposed to remove any nests. I’m not sure how long inactive ones are to be left but if they are in trees or shrubs I leave them there in case the bird returns. I clean out nest boxes at the end of the season, before winter, so they are ready for birds in the spring. Sparrows and Starlings are the exception, their nests can be removed at any time since they are not native birds.


  13. Christine Harding / Mar 9 2013 11:27 am

    That is so interesting – I know different birds build different types of nest, but they all seem to be difficult to see – high up, or hidden in hedges . Actually, you may be able to help me because my Snapshot this week shows some kind of goose or duck that I can’t identify – would it be cheeky to pick your brains? My Snapshot is at


  14. Christine Harding / Mar 9 2013 2:28 pm

    Me again – I have said thank you on my blog, but I’ll say it here as well! I did wonder about the possibility of a hybrid – I once lived on a boat on the Thames, and there were some very strange ducks, the result, so I was told, of cross breeding between mallards and exotic ducks which escaped. But they are so much bigger than mallards that I discounted the idea.

    Thank you.


    • Leslie / Mar 9 2013 2:41 pm

      I can’t think of anything else it would besides some form of hybrid. The Mallard can cross breed with a large number of other ducks plus the hybrids are often fertile making even more strange ducks. I see them fairly often.


  15. irene / Mar 9 2013 7:27 pm

    Well you certainly have opened new windows for me. I’ve never really looked at birds nests before, or birds for that matter. Thank You. My sister and I watched her birdfeeder today, see a few friends. and squirrels.


  16. Alyce (@AtHomeWithBooks) / Mar 9 2013 10:36 pm

    It’s so neat to see the variety of nests! Usually I look up at what looks like a nest in a tree in winter time and wonder if I’m really seeing a nest, or just a bunch of leaves stuck in the tree (especially if it’s too high to see the details – I guess zoom lens would take care of that though if I thought to bring my camera). 🙂


  17. Crystal @ I Totally Paused / Mar 10 2013 2:13 pm

    That seems like a great project! And a fun way to get outside 🙂 I see a lot of squirrel nests in my neighborhood. A couple of years ago, some birds decided to nest in the eaves of my house, so they had their babies making little bird noises…which drove my cat bonkers. It was hilarious!


  18. Cipriano / Mar 10 2013 3:48 pm

    I guess I just find it so amazing that birds can build these wonderful, precariously placed nests, and all the while — </i?they have no arms or fingers! Never mind blueprints.
    This is a great collection of snapshots.


  19. Suko / Mar 10 2013 7:38 pm

    Wonderful photos as usual, Leslie, and it’s truly fascinating that they just “know” how to build nests. It must be ornithological instinct and intelligence. Project NestWatch sounds quite interesting.


  20. carol anne / Mar 13 2013 12:34 am

    I actually found this page by way of Wordless Wednesday and stumbled upon this post. I am new to birding and this is such an interesting post and the photos of the nests are incredible.


  21. stacybuckeye / Mar 15 2013 9:10 pm

    That last nest looks too much like a hive we had (shivers).


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