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Will Birds Use Old Nests?

Question:

I have bird nests in some of my trees that were left over from last year. Should I take them down, or will birds use them again even though they didn't make them?

Hardiness Zone: 6a

Peg from Springboro, OH

Answer:

Peg,

I would recommend leaving the leftover nests in your trees intact for the coming season. Some birds (especially raptors like hawks, osprey and eagles) return to the same nest year after year. Each year they continue to expand on the previous year's efforts. Over time, this can lead to some incredibly large nests (FYI: The North American record for an Eagle's nest is 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide and weighs in at nearly 2 tons!)

In the case of garden-variety birds, the American Robin and Baltimore Oriole, often build new nests in very close proximity (sometimes side by side) last year's nests. Occasionally, Robins will also use a nest from the previous season as a foundation to start a new build, unless invading parasites have rendered them unacceptable for raising young. Other birds, like nuthatches, take advantage of nests in trees that have been abandoned by other birds.

Birds build nests in a variety of places-in tree branches, hollow cavities, even underground. They use a variety of different materials to build them, so even if no birds return to occupy the last year's nests, many may take advantage of the readily available stockpile of left behind building materials.

Happy bird watching!

Ellen

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About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

Recent Answers

By londa (Guest Post)04/19/2008

Why would you want to take them down? They look nice even if they are empty. Londa

By Harlean from Arkansas [125]03/17/2008

I am reading a book by Althea Sherman, an ornithologist who studied the birds in National, Iowa for 50 years. The book is"Birds of an Iowa Dooryard" and she studied all birds, but her real love was the Chimney Swift. She designed and built a tower in 1915 to use in the study of this bird and tells about the first nest that was built in 1918, and was used each year until 1923. Then other nests were built for 9 years, and in 1933 the first nest was re-used. And she tells of many other species who reinforced and re-used their nests each year, and some that dismantled them and using the old materials, built a new nest. So, yes, the birds do re-use old nests. Althea passed away in 1945, and I had the privilege of living in her house in the early '50s when I was 11 years old. Needless to say, her book is extra special to me.
Harlean from Arkansas

By Janice C. [18]03/13/2008

Nothing is easy any more. Believe it or not, apparently in some states it's illegal to remove certain bird nests, those of endangered birds, I imagine. I'd call the local extension agent or DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) office and ask them, just to be sure. They'll also tell you to wear a HEPA filter mask - birds carry diseases. Risk is small, but wearing a mask is easier than getting sick. I remember when kids used to take bird nests to school for show and tell.

By reader (Guest Post)03/12/2008

Depends on the bird, some will continue to use old nests year after year . More info can be found at the library or at birding sites (my daughters love to birdwatching & learning about their strange ways).

By Heidi Chun [2]03/12/2008

Oh please don't take them down! I have doves that come back every year to the same nest. If it needs repair, they dive right in and spruce it up before moving in.

By Ellie. (Guest Post)03/12/2008

It really depends on what sort of birds they are. Some birds will happily renovate and repair last years nest to use again, some birds prefer to locate to a new site and start from scratch again.
You could find out by oberving them when they start to nest again in Spring. Do they seem to be showing interest in the old nests, or just ignoring them?
I'm in Australia, we have perigrine falcons who use the same nest over and over again, just cleaning it up and adding new material.. absolutely amazing, they have found pergrine nests that are actually hundreds of years old.

By DEBRADJ. (Guest Post)03/12/2008

Don't take them down. Birds will reuse old nests. I have tons of birds and birds nests in my yard and they are better recyclers than humans! If they don't like the way a nest is, they will use the materials of the nest to make their own.

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