The Joy of Bird Nests

by Jane Malec

Creating a diverse habitat in our yards in one of the best ways to help keep our environment in balance. This can often be an overwhelming task as some of Mother Nature’s “gifts” can be so frustrating – such as Japanese beetles, tomato horn worms and deer! However, not long ago, I was reminded of one the rewards of our hard work.

While watering the hanging ferns on my front porch, I discovered a deep-bowled bird nest in each one. They were made of small stems and leaves which reminded me of nests on a decorative wreath. Thankfully they were still empty. Over the next few days activity around the nests increased dramatically including a disagreement between possible tenants. About two weeks later while carefully watering the ferns, I discovered light blue eggs in the nests. By then the parents were visible so it was easy to determine that we had two families of House Finches. So now we are trying to keep our traffic to a minimum despite the lure of porch sitting on warm summer evenings.

Around the same time, I was wringing my hands over a hanging begonia in the back yard obviously struggling to survive. Ever the plant detective, I moved some the dead mess out out of the way and found the most beautiful speckled eggs buried in the middle. More research brought me to the conclusion that House Wrens moved into my begonia. Their body style and markings are similar to a house finch but the nest are very different. Wrens really like eclectic homes with everything from grass to animal hair. The finches actively fly in and out of their homes but this little wren rarely leaves her nest.

The type of nests you find along with the shape and coloring of the parents will give you good clues as to the bird taking up residence. Often you won’t see the nest as it may be hidden in a shrub or tree but it is a treat when you do. There is a terrific website from Cornell University that will help you identify both the nests and the parents.

So say you find a nest: what should you do? First off, leave it alone unless it is somewhere inconvenient, say on the wreath of your front door. In a case such as this remove it immediately before there are any eggs. Hopefully you can find a way to coexist and leave it alone especially once the mother has laid her eggs….maybe use the back door!

There are some simple guidelines to use while watching and waiting for the hatchlings. Here are a few:
Don’t check the nests early in the morning or before/after dusk. The parents are really needed during these times.
Avoid nests in bad weather. Your instinct maybe to cover them up but don’t!
Afternoons are the best time to check on the progress but exercise caution.
When you start hear the babies chirping keep your distance. They might jump or fall out of the nest if frightened.

Incubation and fledging periods will differ according to specie but count on about a month give or take to enjoy the process.

Years I ago I was blessed to have been home when a brood of finches left their nest for the first time and hopped up the hill behind our house. I will never forget the simple joy of watching them struggle to keep up with their mom while hiding behind the flowers in my garden. I didn’t have one thought about Japanese beetles or deer …only those sweet little birds. I hope Mother Nature treats you to the same pleasure this summer!IMG_1385