Types of Bird Nests

By Melissa Mayntz and comments by Diane Weinmann


I love birds.  I love the way they look with the beautiful colors and patterns on their feathers, how they glide through the air and above all else, their delightful songs.   Since it’s the winter season in the area I live in, I have noticed lots of bird nests in the bare trees.  I wondered if I would ever be able to distinguish who were the occupants.  I started searching the internet and found this wonderful article about bird nests.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Just as different houses have different architectural styles to meet different residents’ needs – Victorian, ranch, colonial, Mediterranean, etc. – birds also use different types of nests to best suit their needs. Learning the different styles of nests can help birders better appreciate birds’ engineering ingenuity, and nest types can be a great clue for proper bird identification.

Why Birds Build Nestsbird-nests-2

No matter what style a bird uses, all nests serve the same purpose – to protect the eggs and hatchlings.

There are different ways nests do this, including:

  • Cushioning: Many nests are lined with soft plant fibers, animal fur, fine grasses, moss and similar materials that provide cushioning for the eggs, protecting them even when a brooding adult may be moving around on top of the nest. Most nests also have a degree of flexibility in order to continue protecting growing hatchlings without breaking or collapsing.
  • Shelter: Nests help shade and protect eggs and chicks from poor weather. Some birds do this by creating nests that include roofs or overhangs, but more often the nests is positioned in a sheltered location out of the wind and protected from the worst of hot summer sun or drenching rains.
  • Camouflage: Eggs and chicks are exceptionally vulnerable, and most nests are constructed to help keep the birds and eggs hidden from predators. Birds may do this by building their nest in a hidden location or by using materials to help conceal the nest, such as adding bits of bark, lichen or other materials to the outside of the nest as camouflage.

In some cases, nests also help attract mates, and some birds build especially elaborate nests or may start several nests in different locations to better appeal to a mate. Once the partnership is formed, the nest construction will be finished and the eggs laid.

Bird Nest Designsbird-nest-3

Birds can create many different types of nests.

While the same species will always create the same sort of nest structure – birds can’t change their minds and invent new nests – there is great variety among nests types.

  • Cup: A simple cup-shaped nest is the most familiar, most common nest type. The overall size, dimensions and depth of the cup may differ, and some birds build distinct inner and outer layers of the cup. Cups are often positioned along tree branches or in tree forks, or may be nestled on ledges or in any number of unique places.Birds That Build Cup Nests: Barn swallows, ruby-throated hummingbirds, yellow warblers, American robins and many different passerines.
  • Scrape: A basic scrape is a shallow depression on the ground without much nesting material, though it may have a light lining of down, pebbles, weeds or other debris. Scrapes are popular nest types for terrestrial birds or birds that prefer open habitats that lack abundant trees, such as shorebirds or tundra species.Birds That Build Scrape Nests: Common ostrich, killdeer, American avocet, Arctic tern and many shorebirds.
  • Burrow: A nesting burrow is dug into the ground, and may be a shallow cave or could have a long tunnel leading to a nesting chamber. These nests are often excavated in soft material such as loose dirt banks or guano accumulation. The inner nesting chamber may be lined with some material or could be bare. Birds may excavate their own burrows or may usurp suitable burrows from other animals.Birds That Nest in Burrows: Atlantic puffin, burrowing owl, great hornbill, barbets, kiwis and many kingfishers.
  • Mound: A mound nest is built on the ground but is a relatively large accumulation of nesting material in a tall cone or bell-shaped structure. The eggs may be nearly buried in the nest, which helps provide additional protection and insulation. The height and diameter of the nest mound will vary.Birds That Build Mound Nests: Horned coot, Adelie penguin, malleefowl and most flamingo species.
  • Cavity: Cavity-nesting birds are common, and will either excavate their own nesting cavities or use natural cavities in trees, snags, cacti, telephone poles or even nestled in gaps in houses or will easily use bird houses. The interior cavity may be bare or could be lined with a variety of materials, and some birds may even build loose cups inside the cavity.Birds That Use Nest Cavities: Eastern bluebird, house sparrow, most woodpeckers, many parrots, tits and chickadees.
  • Platform: A platform nest is a relatively large, bulky structure often built of larger twigs or sticks. The surface is typically flat or may have a very shallow depression, but not enough to be considered a deliberate cup. Many birds reuse platform nests for many years, often adding material to the nest each year.Birds That Build Platform Nests: Bald eagle, osprey, great blue heron, white stork and many other raptors and large wading birds.
  • Pendant: Pendant nests are elaborately woven sacks that dangle from branches, giving birds in the nest great protection from predators. Some are not suspended very far from the branches while others may hang several feet below their attachment point. Birds enter the nest through an entrance on the side.Birds That Build Pendant Nests: Baltimore orioles, caciques, oropendolas and most weaver bird species.
  • Sphere: A sphere or dome nest is almost completely enclosed and provides great protection and camouflage, though the trade off is that these nests are often on the ground or in low areas and may be more susceptible to predators. The nest entrance is typically on the side so it still provides protection from rain.Birds That Build Sphere Nests: American dipper, marsh wren, winter wren, ovenbird and different meadowlarks.

Birds Without Nests

While birds can be very creative architects, there are a number of bird species that have no nests at all. Some species, such as the peregrine falcon, common murre and emperor penguin, simply lay their eggs in the open or in a relatively secluded spot without actually having a nest structure. Other birds practice egg dumping or brood parasitism and lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, abandoning their parental duties completely.

Birds’ nests are amazing structures that come in a wide range of sizes and styles. Understanding more about why and how birds build nests gives birders even better insights into the amazing lives and reproductive habits of their favorite bird species.  So grab your binoculars and take a look for yourself!


Clipping A Bird’s Wing

bird-wing-cockatielClipping your bird’s wings can seem like a daunting task, and indeed it takes patience and practice to master. In the wrong hands, wing clipping can be a bit risky, but if you have a steady hand and are good at following directions, then you should be able to minimize any hazards and do a good job. By following a few simple steps, you can learn to safely clip your own bird’s wings at home without having to make frequent vet visits and playing fees to have it done for you. If you feel like you can confidently complete the task yourself, read on for instructions and advice that will help you along the way. Always keep safety as your first priority, however — if you are unsure of your ability to safely clip your bird’s wings, or if you become nervous even in the middle of doing a trim, it’s always best to stop and take your bird to an avian veterinarian to have the procedure done.

Fetch your bird first aid kit. Although you know you are going to do everything you can to minimize the risk of injury to your bird, accidents can and do occur, and it’s better to be safe than sorry! Before you begin clipping your bird’s wings, get your bird first aid kit and have it handy nearby. In the event of an unforeseen emergency, it will be helpful for you to have quick access to your bundle of medical supplies.


  • Select a quiet location. Choosing a good location for you to clip your bird’s wings will help keep your pet as calm as possible during the process. Try to choose a location away from your bird’s cage, away from any loud, sudden noises, and away from the traffic of the household. Removing your bird from areas that they are familiar with will make them less likely to jump or fight while they are getting their wings trimmed, so a quiet spot like a spare bedroom or bathroom is ideal.
  • Recruit help if necessary. The very first time to clip your bird’s wings, and subsequent times until you are confident that you can handle the procedure yourself, it’s a good idea to have a friend or family member help restrain your bird for you while you do the trimming. Most wing clipping accidents stem from trying to work on birds that are not properly restrained, so you can minimize a great deal of risk by having a partner help you while you are learning.
  • Restrain your bird using a towel. By “toweling your bird“, you will put your bird into a comfortable but secure position so that you can examine the wings and trim the necessary feathers without fear of being bitten or scratched while minimizing the risk that your bird will be able to jump, twist, or lunge. This makes the wing clipping process much safer for all involved.
  • Clip only the primary flight feathers. Different people like different styles of wing-clipping, but in general, the most widely accepted, efficient, and effective method is to clip only the first five primary flight feathers on each of your bird’s wings. These feathers, along with an approximate location to start the trim-line, are highlighted in green in the accompanying photo. When trimming the feathers, be sure that you use sharp scissors and avoid cutting into feather shafts that appear dark in color. A dark feather shaft indicates a blood feather, which can cause serious problems if broken or cut. If you do happen to catch a blood feather between your blades, check here to find out how to fix a broken blood feather.

Once you are done clipping your bird’s wings, place the bird back inside of its cage and allow it to rest for a couple of hours. Wing trims can be very stressful for pet birds, so allowing them time to relax and recoup their strength before any further interaction is imperative. After several sessions, however, your bird should become more used to wing trims, and become more agreeable during and after the procedure.

You can re-trim your bird’s wings anytime it becomes necessary and you see your bird regaining full flight. In general, this occurs every 4 to 6 weeks as old feathers are molted away and new ones grow in. Each time, even as you become more confident in your wing clipping prowess, keep safety as your top priority. Doing so will ensure that you and your bird will have many more happy times together.