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Bird Nest Material

Species Specific Nests

Snow falling on abandoned bird nests forms distinctive white caps that are easy to detect. Because the builders of these nurseries are long gone, most with no intention of re-using their nest, we are afforded a unique opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of them.

There are many clues that help to identify the builder of a nest — habitat, size, and material used being the most obvious. A given species of bird builds a nest that greatly resembles the nest of every other member of that species, and builds it in a similar habitat. Thus, every American Goldfinch nest bears a strong resemblance to every other American Goldfinch nest, every Gray Catbird nest looks like every other Gray Catbird nest, etc. The two American Goldfinch nests pictured were both located in overgrown fields, they are both roughly three inches wide and a little over that in depth, and both are made of fine fibers and lined with thistle and cattail down.

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Great Blue Heron Ingenuity

I had to laugh this morning about what I witnessed just after posting about male Great Blue Herons collecting and delivering sticks for their nest. It occurred to me that I have seen hundreds of sticks being brought to nests, but I have never actually seen a heron in the act of collecting a stick. Lo and behold, today was my lucky day. At least one heron came up with an extremely efficient and energy-saving strategy for accomplishing this task.

Being largely fish eaters, herons typically raise their young in wetlands where food is plentiful. Many of these wetlands are created by beavers, who set up housekeeping there as well. Herons owe not only their habitat to beavers, but also, in this case, their nesting material. A veritable goldmine of sticks is right underneath the heron nests, free for the taking right in the middle of the heron rookery in the form of a beaver lodge. Fortunately for the beavers, there is a limit to the size of the stick a heron can carry.

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Great Blue Herons Renovating & Building Nests

Great Blue Herons are colonial nesters – up to 500 platform nests or more may be built in dead snags and trees bordering or in swamps, ponds and woodlands. Where trees are not available, they will nest on the ground (this usually occurs only on predator-free islands).

The nests of Great Blue Herons are built of sticks, usually gathered by the males from nearby trees and shrubs as well as the ground.  The male heron flies with a stick in his bill back to the nest (see photo) where the female awaits and presents her with the stick. She takes it from his beak, pokes it into the nest and eventually lines the nest with pine needles, moss, reeds, grasses and small twigs.  Although nest building and repair is at its height right now, nesting material is added throughout the nesting period.

Nests are often re-used for many years, but not necessarily by the same pair of herons. While nest fidelity is not strong, Great Blue Herons do tend to show a preference for the species of tree in a colony in which they build their nest. Nesting colonies can be used for just a few years, or for as many as 70.

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