Herring gulls, like other shorebirds, put very little effort into their nests. Sometimes they won’t do much more than scrape the sandy ground with their feet. In other cases, they’ll add vegetation and garbage such as plastic and rope. But gulls are choosy about their nesting sites. They prefer spots next to rocks or logs, protected from the wind and hidden from predators.
Baltimore orioles take at least a week to weave their sack-like hanging nests. Females, working solo, tie thousands of knots with their beaks. They use grass, wool, horsehair, twine, fishing line and other flexible material for the exterior two layers, then line the inside with feathers.
Bald eagles build the largest nests of any bird in North America. Every year, pairs return to the same place to nest, and every year, they add more material—sticks, kelp, cornstalks, their own feathers—to the old structure. That’s why the biggest nest on record (in St. Petersburg, Fla.) was almost three metres wide and weighed more than two tonnes.
Paul Reeves Photography/Shutterstock
Ruby-throated hummingbirds make waterproof cups the size of a toonie using plant down, lichen, and spider’s silk. (It has the same tensile strength as steel.) Hummingbirds will build their miniscule nests almost anywhere they’ll fit—even on the link of a chain!
Using their feet, burrow nesters such as belted kingfishers dig holes into sand banks to create upward-slanting tunnels as deep as two-and-a-half metres. Stashing their eggs in these dens helps protect offspring from predators; the upward sloping design keeps rainwater from collecting inside.
Photo by Mark Wangerin
Ovenbirds get their name for a reason: their tea kettle-sized nests, made from dead leaves, grass, and moss woven around twigs, look like old-fashioned outdoor bread ovens. But you won’t usually see the nests, or the birds. Both are well camouflaged against the forest floor.
Nests near water
Loons re-use the same nests year to year. They build them out of mud, grasses, pine needles, and other vegetation, and tuck them close to shore, or sometimes on a half-submerged log or on an island. Project alert: loons will also take advantage of nesting platforms helpfully built by cottagers.
White-breasted nuthatches will happily repurpose the tree cavities chiselled and abandoned by woodpeckers. Females move into these ready-to-go digs and line the openings with fur, bark, and dirt. Then, using soft materials, they make cozy nurseries to hold their eggs.
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The architecture of birds’ nests is as varied and interesting as the design and construction of our own cottages and cabins. How well do you know your nests? Featured Video