Every year during spring, the forests & fields of nature become filled with a hustle & bustle of nesting birds.
When you know what clues to look for, this brings a rare opportunity to practice finding bird nests and study their predator defence strategies.
The easiest way to find nests is by watching for birds carrying nest materials like twigs, mud, plant fibers, moss & sticks, and then follow them to the nest location.
Bird nesting can be an incredibly subtle behavior, but with a few good awareness tricks, anyone can spot the signs and locate their hidden homes.
The following video shares how to find bird nests without disturbing their activity or revealing the nest location to predators.
I have to mention that with all these tips in mind, it’s very important that you don’t disturb birds by getting too close to their nests.
The basic method shared in this video will get you started, and here’s a few more things to keep in mind if you want to really get skilled at finding bird nests.
1. Look For Active Nesting Behavior
If you want to successfully find bird nests, the most important skill is being able to recognize the signs of active nesting behavior.
Since birds only nest at certain times of year, it’s important to know what season the birds start building nests in your area.
Most birds will start building nests during spring soon after returning to their breeding territory, however this can change depending on your location and the particular species that live nearby.
Here’s a quick outline of 5 basic stages that relate to nesting:
- Stage 1: Migrating birds return from their winter territories
- Stage 2: Males begin singing as birds begin pairing up
- Stage 3: Nests are built
- Stage 4: Mating, egg-laying & incubation
- Stage 5: Begging nestlings being fed by parents
Each stage (especially 3-5) has it’s own unique signs that tell you where to look for nests. For some birds, these first stages of nest building start incredibly early, even while there’s still snow on the ground.
The different nest behaviors are really the most important thing for finding nests so if you want to learn more about these stages, I wrote another article on how to recognize when birds are building nests and laying eggs in your area.
- During the building stage, parents carrying nest materials can be followed to the nest site.
- During incubation, females need to spend a lot of time sitting on the nest. Sometimes the male will bring food, and if the female gets spooked, she will try to return as soon as possible.
- During the begging stage you can find nests by seeing the parent birds carrying food, and also by listening for the sound of soft cheeps from begging nestlings.
So how long does nesting last?
Many people are often surprised to discover that even in the month of July as the nesting season begins to wrap up for another year, you can still find quite a few nests around.
I once witnessed a robin family in my yard get their nest pillaged twice during July, and a family of jays in the nearby trees lose their nest to a murder of crows.
There are still families being started and restarted quite late in the season. I still routinely hear nesting aerial predator alarms for the local crows when I’m out on my evening walks through the neighbourhood.
So keep your eyes peeled for these nesting signs all the way from March until at least July or August.
2. Learn The Different Types of Nests
It might also helpful to realize that there are different types of bird nests that you can find.
Birds make different types of nest based on their survival strategy & the habitat they live in.
It’s helpful to know a little bit about these different types of nests so you can recognize them more easily and anticipate what to look for
Here are some of the most common nest types:
- Cup Nests: These are made by robins, sparrows, juncos in trees & shrubs.
- Cavity Nests: These are holes in old trees used by woodpeckers, chickadees & starlings
- Platform Nests: These are commonly used by large predatory birds like eagles, ospreys & ravens
- Sphere Nests: These are fascinating balls of material often seen in marshy areas being used by red-winged blackbirds & marsh wrens.
- Scrape Nests: These are basically just a scrape on the ground commonly used by birds living close to water like gulls & sandpipers.
3. Practice Finding Nests During Winter
It can also be great practice to try and find nests during winter when all the leaves are off the trees.
This makes it easier to actually spot the nests and identify the most common locations.
The other benefit of finding nests during winter is there’s really no chance of disturbing the sensitive nesting process.
This is important… If you want to learn about bird nests, it’s important to do it in an ethical way.
Sometimes this means you avoid certain areas once you realize there’s an active nest being made or used.
I often will know a nest’s general location from watching a birds behavior, but then once I’m confident of the general area, I do tend to stay away and be respectful.
Then after the birds finish up their activity, now you can go confirm the exact location. This is a much safer way to do it.
Make note of any locations where you find nests during the winter season.
- Are you finding them tucked low in deciduous shrubs?
- Are they 10 feet up in a coniferous tree?
- Are they hidden away built into the ground under a bush?
Then in spring you can use these observations to anticipate the most likely locations being used.
4. Watch Nest Predators Carefully
One of the most common ways I find nests is by observing nest predators & hearing the alarm response of other birds towards them.
Nest predators will try to steal eggs or nestlings, so whenever there are nest predators in the area, birds respond by making various types of alarm calls that I’ve discussed in other articles about bird alarm behavior.
Robins have a particularly high pitched alarm call that almost always clues me into sneaky crows during spring & early summer. This is also one of the best indicators that there’s also an active nest nearby.
While nest predation is a natural process of nature, you probably don’t want to make it any easier on your local scavengers.
Our goal is to find nesting birds WITHOUT disturbing or giving away the nest locations to predators!
So as you practice these tips, please keep your eyes peeled for nearby Crows & Ravens, Jays, Magpies, or even squirrels and other nest robbers who might try and steal the eggs.
Be aware of their alarm calls, and be especially cautious NOT to give away the location of any active nests. Please be respectful of the wildlife.
You are being watched, so stay alert!
If you want to learn more about how birds defend their nests from predators check out my beginner’s guide to bird language for more info.
5. Know The Basics Of Bird Identification
Along with everything mentioned here, it’s obviously quite helpful to have some basic knowledge of bird identification.
Being able to identify birds makes you much better equipped to anticipate the nest locations because every bird has it’s own nesting habits.
There’s a big yellow book called the birder’s handbook that includes massive amounts of research on the most common nest locations by species.
This book will tell you what type of nest a bird constructs, and the most likely locations, height, tree/shrub, etc… but ONLY if you know your local species!
Bird identification can be an intimidating skill, however for the purpose of finding nests you really just need to know the most common birds that actually live in your area.
Usually it’s just a handful of species that are doing most of the nest building in your backyard and local park, so this is well worth the practice.
With time you’ll get to know that robins like to make their nests 10-15 feet up in the trees. These little factoids about nesting will really help you accurately anticipate nest locations even before you see the actual nest.
Practice & Repetition
So let’s get tuned into bird nests… Go practice these tips for finding bird nests and discover a deeper sensitivity for the cycles of nature!
The ability to find bird nests outside can be pretty tough, but with the help of the strategies shared on this page, you can learn to spot the signs and discover their hidden homes.
What are your favorite strategies for locating bird nests in your area?