Crows are very sneaky about the location of their nests.
But with so many crows raising families around our homes and neighborhoods, crows nests are actually very common.
So how can you find them?
This video has everything you need to find crow nests:
As shown above, there are 3 main methods you can use to find a crow nest in early spring:
- Locating The General Nesting Area
- Following Crows With Nest Materials
- Female Begging Sounds
Let’s look at these more closely:
1. How To Find The General Nesting Area
Crows have a number of key behaviors that happen in the general nesting area, sometimes many weeks before the actual nest is built.
While these behaviors don’t tell you the exact location of the nest, they will help you identify which areas are going to have nests in coming weeks so you can check back as the season progresses.
Crows are some of the earliest birds to start nesting, so the sooner you can identify nesting areas, the more likely you will be able to find an active nest.
Crows protect their nest sites and female crows from rival crows starting as early as February, and this often provides our first opportunity to identify the general nest location.
Look for crows chasing and dive bombing other crows through the sky, and then circling back to the direction they came from
Territorial behavior starts while the majority of crows are still using their communal winter roosts.
So just because you see crows flying to their winter roosts, doesn’t mean there aren’t also nesting families that have already broken away.
I covered territorial behavior in a lot more depth in my other article on crow territorial behavior.
The next sign that you can look for in mid-late winter is pairs of crows inconspicuously bonding in the forest.
This crow pair was seen perching closely together in the forest while the male preened her and she fluttered her wings.
They do this behavior very close to where the nest is built, so if you see this behavior, it’s a really good sign you have a nesting pair that will very likely be making a nest within the next few weeks.
This is the sort of behavior that most people would probably just walk by without even noticing.
And it demonstrates an important thing to know about crow nesting: it’s a lot quieter and more subtle than a lot of the other behaviors you’re probably used to with crows.
Pro Tip: Use Binoculars
Binoculars will greatly increase your chances of seeing courtship behavior in crows.
Luckily, the whole sequence shown above lasted for many minutes, so you have time to find a good position and watch carefully.
If you want to learn more about observing crow behavior, check out my other article about common crow behaviors and what they mean.
2. Following Crows With Nest Materials
Overall, the best way to find crow nests is to follow them while they collect nest materials.
Look for crows in the sub canopy of the forest, hopping around in the branches in a stealthy sort of way. They’re typically not making a lot of vocalizations while they do this.
Crows will only take about 1-2 weeks building their nest, but may make several nests before choosing their final location.
The actual nest location can sometimes be quite close to where sticks are gathered.
Watch carefully where the crows go and try to follow them when they have nest materials in their mouths. This will very often show you exactly where their nests are.
Question: When Do Crows Start Building Nests?
Crows are some of the earliest birds to start nesting. In many places, there will still be snow on the ground when they first start pairing up and building nests.
And with all the bare branched deciduous trees, it’s actually an ideal time to search for active nests because you can see so much farther in the trees.
3. Listen For Female Crow Begging Sounds
It’s also sometimes possible to locate crow nests by sound.
Female crows have a raspy begging call that sounds very similar to juvenile crows. They make this call from the nest site, likely as a way to call their partner to bring food.
This call was made the same day crows were bringing nest materials. I would occasionally hear the female making little soft begging calls from the nest location.
Whenever she would make these calls, often within a few minutes I would see the male flying into the nest.
What Do Crow Nests Look Like?
Crow nests look like a big bundle of sticks up in the tops of trees.
However, it’s important to realize that crow nests are often invisible from the ground.
You will almost always need to rely on behavioral clues, like those shared in this article to identify the nest location.
In many cases, even after finding the nest location you still won’t be able to see the nest itself.
Your odds of finding a crows nest are greatly increased if you look for behavioral cues, like flying nest materials into the same thicket of trees repeatedly.
The good news is that crows will often use the same nest for several years in a row, so if you find an active nest you may get to watch that location for years to come.
Most of the nests I’ve found were in big conifers like pines or spruce trees, but they can nest in a wide variety of locations including our own neighborhoods & backyards.