How to find bird nests in the backyard with your kids

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Kids love learning about wildlife and searching for bird nests can be a fun activity to enjoy as a family. If you know when and where to search, you may be lucky enough to find some hidden bird nests in the areas around your home.

Depending on where you live and the time of year, bird nests can sometimes be tricky to find.

Read on for tips about how to find bird nests, as well as how to identify the types of bird nests you discover.

Remember, birds are wild animals that deserve our respect, so you should avoid getting too close so as not to upset them!

It’s easiest to find bird nests in winter when the trees are bare. These old nests will be empty so there’s no chance of disturbing any chicks. To find nests in spring and summer, look out for birds carrying nesting materials or food for their chicks and follow them from a safe distance.

Where to find bird nests near your house

There are several places where you might find birds nesting near your home. The best places to find bird nests depends very much on where you live.

If you search online, you can find out which species of birds are most common in your state. Then, you can learn where these birds like to make their nests. Use this knowledge to decide whether you should begin your search by looking up in trees, on rooftops, on the ground, or someplace else.

Look carefully at the birds you see flying around near your home and listen to their calls. If you can identify the types of birds you see, this will help you to discover where they’re likely to nest.

Take a look at these photos of common North American birds and keep your eyes open for any near your home.

Investing in a good set of binoculars is a great way to identify birds from far away. You’ll probably want to also buy a small lightweight pair for your kids so that they can join in.

The best places to search for bird nests are:

  • Your backyard: Look up in the trees and the eaves of your house to see if you can spot any nests without leaving home. If not, consider placing a bird box to encourage birds to build a new nest for you to find.
  • Public areas: Whether you live near woodland, the coast, a park, or even in the city, take a stroll around to see what you can find.
  • Nature centers: Your local bird sanctuary is a great place to watch birds and admire their nests.

When searching for bird nests, be sure that you don’t trespass on private property. You may need to contact property owners to get their permission.

The best time to look for bird nests near you

Birds in the United States generally nest from March through August each year.

However, this can vary depending on where you live and the actual nesting period may only last for a few weeks.

Look up the most common bird species in your particular area and find out when they are likely to nest. If you spot birds with bits of nesting materials in their beaks, that’s a really good indication that birds are building nests nearby.

If you spot birds carrying worms, you’ll know that they’re feeding their chicks.

The best seasons for observing nests

You don’t necessarily need to wait until the spring or summer to find nests. Winter is actually one of the best times to hunt for bird nests. While these nests leftover from last year will be empty, they’ll be easier to see without leaves and shrubs blocking your view.

If you head out in the winter months, make a note of where you find old nests, as birds are likely to return there the following year to build their new ones.

The best time of day to observe nests

In the spring and summer, the best time of day to look for bird nests is at midday or in the early afternoon. Most birds lay their eggs in the morning, so you should avoid visiting nests at this time to allow them the privacy that they need.

Don’t visit bird nests at dawn or dusk. The temperature will be cooler, and if the parents vacate the nest at these times it could cause any hatchlings to become vulnerable to the cold or to predators.

How to observe bird nests safely & responsibly

When you find a bird nest, it’s very important that you don’t touch it, even if it seems to be in an awkward spot.

Many bird species in the US are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and there are also state and local laws to consider. These make it illegal to handle or disturb active nests.

Minimize disturbances

As well as not touching nests, you should also avoid getting too close or making lots of noise as this could stress the birds and may even cause them to abandon the nest.

Approach softly and allow any birds present to fly away.

If you’re observing birds nesting in boxes or bird houses, gently tap on the box to let the birds know that you’re there. Then, slowly open the box and allow them to leave.

Take a look at the eggs

Wild bird eggs are a beautiful sight to behold with some alluring colors and speckled patterns. However, you’ll want to make sure your kids know that they should never, ever touch bird eggs.

Some people believe that birds can smell if a human has touched the eggs and that this will cause them to immediately abandon their young.

This is a myth, as birds can’t smell all that well. However, if the parent birds believe that they are at risk of predators, they could stay away from the nest for longer than is healthy for the eggs.

To take a look at eggs or hatchlings without getting too close, you could attach your phone or camera to a long selfie stick or even make a DIY version by taping your phone to a broom handle as this dad did!

Visit a local nature center

Taking your kids on a day out to your local wildlife refuge visitor center can be a fun way to observe bird nests and learn how to identify them.

You may be able to view exhibits of nests that are commonly found in your area. Studying these will help you to get a better understanding of each wild bird nest that you spot.

How to know what kind of nest you found

Bird nest with eggs in grass

When you find a bird nest, it can be really tricky to know what kind of nest it is. If you can catch a glimpse of the birds that use the nest and identify those, then you’ll know, but this isn’t always possible.

When birds have chicks to feed, you’ll see them flying to and from the nest with food. But if the mother bird is incubating eggs she may be harder to see.

If you can’t get a good look at any adult birds or chicks, it’s still possible to identify the nest. Firstly, we suggest taking a look at this photo gallery of common bird nests and eggs to see if it looks like any of those.

The different types of bird nests

Just as there are different types of human houses like apartments, cottages, and ranches, birds have different types of nests. Whatever the nest looks like, they all serve the same purpose – to protect eggs and hatchlings from harm by predators or the weather.

Birds can make many different types of nests, but each species of bird will only build one particular type of nest. Birds don’t design their nests, so each house sparrow nest, for example, will look very similar.

Types of bird nests:

  • Cup: The most common nest type, these are often found in the forks of tree branches.
  • Platform: Large and bulky, these nests are typically flat and may be reused each year.
  • Cavity: These nests are made inside holes such as inside tree cavities or bird houses
  • Scrape:  Found on the ground, these are shallow depressions filled with pebbles and weeds.
  • Burrow: Built underground, birds may make these themselves or use burrows left by other animals.
  • Mound: These tall, cone-shaped structures are built on the ground with the eggs hidden inside.
  • Pendant: The most elaborate of all nests, these are woven sacks that dangle from branches with an entrance on the side,
  • Sphere: An enclosed dome-shaped nest that’s built on the ground with a side entrance.

Within each type of bird nest, different nests have unique characteristics that give further clues as to who built them. Once you’ve identified the type of nest (such as a cup nest), you’ll also want to note its size, location, and what it’s made of.

Distinguishing features of bird nests:

  • Size: This gives a good clue as to the size of the bird that lives there. Whilst bigger birds generally have bigger nests, some small birds that lay six or more eggs need a large nest to accommodate them.
  • Location: Nests are commonly found high up in trees, on cliff edges, on the ground or amongst shrubs. You should also pay attention to the surroundings – are you in the forest, a desert, by the sea, or in a city?
  • Materials: Birds use all kinds of natural and man-made nesting materials including twigs, moss, mud, leaves, string, grass, pebbles, spider webs, wool, feathers, and trash.

Remember that bird nest identification is a skill that takes practice. It won’t be possible for every nest that you find, so don’t be disheartened if you can’t work out who made the nest.

What to do if you find a fallen nest or baby bird

If you spot a fallen nest or a bird on the ground, your first instinct will probably be to help. But, be careful. If you touch the nest or the bird, you may be doing more harm than good.

Fallen nests

Some bird nests are built on the ground, so it could be the case that the nest hasn’t fallen from a tree and that it’s meant to be there. Birds have even been known to build nests right on people’s doorsteps!

If the nest is causing an obstruction or appears to be in a dangerous position, don’t be tempted to move it. Instead, you should call your local wildlife agency to ask for assistance.

It’s very rare that a nest that was built in a tree would fall to the ground.

Baby birds

If you see a baby bird on the ground, take a look to see if it has feathers. If it does, then this fledgling has probably left the nest on purpose.

Even if it can’t fly yet, it will probably spend some days wandering around and hiding in bushes until it becomes strong enough to take flight. This is completely normal.

If you find a very young baby bird with no feathers, it most likely fell out of the nest by accident. In this case, it will die without assistance so you should gently place it back into the nest.

If you can’t reach the nest, place the hatchling in a small container filled with a shredded kitchen towel. If you attach the container to a nearby tree, there’s a good chance that the chick’s parents will find it and care for it within the new makeshift nest.

Wrapping up

Observing bird nests with your children can be incredibly interesting, especially if you’re lucky enough to sneak a peek at some eggs or hatchlings.

Identifying local birds and their nests is a great educational activity to enjoy with kids of all ages. Just be sure to be respectful so as not to disturb any birds that you come across.

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Hope this helps!