Nesting notes

When walking, I like to look for birds' nests, high and low. Sighting one is a sudden delight. Back inside my home, curiosity leads me to look through books to learn more about the nests I’ve seen – and the ones I haven’t seen. For others who are pleased by and curious about nests, here are some useful resources, all available online.

Discovering nests

Birds build many different types of nests in a variety of places. Of the myriad styles of nests birds use, a regular favorite of mine is the platform nest: a large, bulky structure made of sticks and twigs. Bald eagles, ospreys, great blue herons, and raptors all make platform nests, and many such nests are reused in subsequent years. Indeed, I favor this particular type of nest precisely because it is so highly visible and long lasting. Not only have I been able to discover many such nests, I’ve watched with fascination as different bird families have inhabited them over the years.

Picturing nests

The smaller the nest, the harder it can be to spot one, of course. Yet curiously enough, it is common for a small nest, and in particular a small cup nest, to be what is often pictured when we speak of bird nests. Little cup-shaped nests are emblematic, in other words, even though birds also build bigger nests and nests in other shapes (like pendants or domes). In my eyes, a small cup nest is a lovely sight, indeed, but a much too infrequent one, outdoors. Accordingly, I’ve learned to rely on books with nest photographs as a way to view numerous examples of amazing little nests, and no book has brought me more pleasure than that of Sharon Beals. This volume presents Beals’ photographs of fifty nests from one museum collection, and as Scott Weidensaul explains in the introductory essay, it “allows us to see the beauty and splendor of nests anew.”

Sharing nests

Perhaps in addition to sighting nests here and there, you would like to observe one up close, while also following a specific bird’s nesting behaviors – and ideally, watching from within your own backyard. If so, building a nesting box might well be the way to go. The right nesting box, or bird house, can encourage cavity nesters, the birds that prefer to nest inside an enclosed space, to take up residence in a location that’s convenient for your viewing. Happily, straightforward directions for how to set up and monitor a nesting box are readily available in Bill Thompson’s useful guide to backyard birding in the western U.S. In addition, Thompson helpfully explains how to create natural nesting opportunities with the plants and trees in your yard, so you can further increase your chances of having a close look at a bird and its nest.

In recent weeks, have you noted a nest anywhere – and felt a whir of delight?