Birds raising young

We try to provide everything birds need to raise their young including:

Nesting materials

Robin gathering mud ©Janet AllenRobin gathering mud for her nest

One of the first surprises when we created our pond was to see how popular its muddy bog was. Even robins not nesting in our yard come to get some mud and other bits of materials for their nests.

Robin gathering nesting materials ©Janet AllenRobin gathering nesting materials

Nesting materials are essential, yet they're in short supply in the suburbs. Where can birds (or other creatures) find the simple materials they need to construct their nests?

Mud, twigs, moss, dried grasses, twigs, spider webs, and other bits of nature that people generally "clean up" and put out to the curb in trash are essential materials birds need to build their nests.

Chickadee gathering moss ©Janet Allen
A chickadee gathering moss for its nest

We noticed this chickadee working very hard in this area, then we noticed why. It was gathering nice dry moss and then flying to the nestbox near our driveway.

There's lots of moss in our stream, but this patch right next to the stream and under our clethra is very dry, which the chickadee prefers for its nest. This makes sense because it's inside a nest box. The robin prefers the wet moss since it's creating a kind of adobe material for its nest.

Wren with a stick for its nest ©Janet AllenWren with a stick for its nest

This wren has found a suitable stick for one of its nests. If this is a male, this stick is likely destined to be part of the "sample" nests it builds to show off to the female. It's interesting to watch them try to fit long sticks into the small nest hole. After a few tries, they turn their head and guide one end into the nest. They're usually successful, no matter how big the stick is.

Unfortunately, they often build these sample nests on top of a chickadee's nest. We have quite a few nest boxes, so we hope the wren can build enough of these to satisfy any female wren and still have enough left over for the chickadees.

oriole ©Janet Allen
Baltimore oriole

We were thrilled to spot this Baltimore oriole gathering nesting materials since we've never seen them nesting in our area. She came back a few times (but not enough times for me to get a really good photo—this one was taken through the porch screen).

It was interesting to see that she was "harvesting" fibers from the previous year's milkweed stalks.

Chickadee with milkweed fibers ©Janet Allen
A chickadee gathering milkweed fibers

This isn't the first time I've seen birds using these fibers. Here's a chickadee gathering these fibers, and I've seen other birds doing this, too.

This is yet another reason to plant milkweed (besides the fact that they're essential to monarch butterflies), especially when we leave the stalks standing from the previous year.

House sparrow gathering nesting materials ©Janet AllenHouse sparrow gathering nesting materials

House sparrows gather some of the longest bits of nesting materials we've seen. They generally manage to get it into the nestbox, though sometimes they're too optimistic and have to give up.

This is the nestbox they most often use, and as unpleasant as it is, we maintain it as a house sparrow population control nest.

We've decided that the most ethical thing to do is to remove the eggs once each clutch is laid. They laid about five clutches last year. Unfortunately, to the detriment of native species, they're incredibly prolific.

We were happy that these eggs could at least be used to help scientists study variability in eggs.

robin nest ©Janet AllenRobin nest

This robin nest is a wonderful example of natural building using mud and straw.

Building made of cob ©Janet Allen
Our son made this building with cob

Robins, in other words, are using the building material known as "cob," a mixture of straw and clay, which our son is using in his structures.

Birds and other creatures have modeled many earth-friendly building techniques that were essential for humans in the past and which will be needed in the future, too. (See sidebar for links to his projects.)