Column: Bird Nests 101 – Richmond News

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About 100 yards up the road, a monster mansion is under construction. For weeks, heavy machinery and trucks have been roaring and rumbling through the neighborhood. They disgorged wood and other supplies, coming from who knows how far. The moaning and popping noises rattle our already frayed nerves.

At this time of the year, a different type of construction is underway. The noise level is almost non-existent. In fact, all of the sounds associated with the work are soft – more like music than din and din. Every day for a few weeks now I have listened to the birds, chirping, chirping, singing happily and resolutely as they come in and out of the trees. It is the mating season, that is to say the construction of the nest.

We are home to a variety of birds, which build a variety of nests in a variety of locations. They do not use crushing or polluting machines. They do not destroy anything during the work. They get their materials locally.

They find their supply of twigs, leaves, grasses, moss, lichen, feathers, and soft, downy materials in trees, fields, gardens, yards. If you let nature take over your garden during the winter, the birds will find plenty of what they need. Dandelions are a godsend because they bloom early. Once pollinated by an insect, the dandelion produces seeds which grow through the florets and develop fluffy white filaments, used in particular by hummingbirds for nest building (some birds also eat the seeds during the nesting season). Dried grasses are also good building materials. I’m plagued by quackgrass, but I refrain from tearing everything out while building the nests.

Where do birds place their nests? Chickadees choose natural cavities in dead or rotting trees (they love birches) or cavities abandoned by woodpeckers. Nesting sites of house finches include cavities, old nests of other species, as well as newly built nests by them in trees. Juncos often build their nests on the ground, against tree trunks or in tall vegetation, so we have to be careful where and how we prune our yards and fields. The junco’s nest, like that of most other songbirds in our region, is open-cup shaped, woven with grasses and plant fibers and lined with softer materials. Additionally, the song sparrow tends to nest quite low, sometimes on the ground and sometimes in shrubs or low trees. The nest is built with grasses, leaves, weeds and strips of bark. For the interior, softer vegetation and animal hair are used.

Hummingbird nests often rest on the forks of branches in sheltered bushes or shrubs. Made from soft plant fibers held together by strands of cobwebs, these tiny nests are expandable, able to expand to hold baby birds until they fledge, usually after 3-4 weeks. Because the nests are so small and well camouflaged, they are difficult to see and often succumb to the tools of the arborist – a reason to discourage (or even ban) the pruning of bushes and trees during nesting season.

One of the greatest joys has to be the discovery of a bird’s nest in your garden – a sign that you have been considered a trustworthy human, certainly a huge honor today when humans talk so much damage, destroy habitats, arrogantly assuming that they are the masters of all.

Sabine Eiche is a local writer and art historian, with a doctorate from Princeton University. She is passionately involved in the preservation of the environment and the protection of nature. His columns cover a wide range of topics and often include the history (etymology) of words to shed additional light on the subject.

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