Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Bird Nests in Your Backyard March 3, 2011

Today it is 33 degrees outside. Tomorrow it will be 41. Saturday, 52.  There is a lot of rain in the forecast, but on March 12th a “full day of sunshine” is proposed. Do you know what this means, readers?  In the northeast United States, spring is coming.

As you may have guessed from my recent posts, I will be very happy to see winter go. In the mean time, though, I have noticed a surprising benefit to the leaves being off the trees.




Bird nests! If you keep an eye out, you can see them easily right now through the branches of trees, without the dark foliage to camouflage them. I sometimes see them in my neighborhood, nestled against the bare bark. I also sometimes see bird and squirrel nests in the trees while I am driving. I usually am not able to stop to take pictures, but I enjoy seeing them and getting a glimpse of how animals are living and raising their young.

Last year, when this blog was still a baby, I discovered a pair of mourning doves nesting on my balcony. They eventually laid eggs and hatched a squab. I really loved having them there and was sad to see them go.  Last May I also had the opportunity to see a killdeer nest and have a reader submit video of bluebird and wren babies living in his backyard. All of this means I am very excited to have the chance to look at some bird nests up close before all of the leaves grow back and birds take up residence again.




The change in season also means that birds are going to start building new nests soon. Gathering material to build nests is a lot of work, so some people put out “nest material holders,” for birds to visit and borrow from.  You can buy professional versions of these, or you can make your own. Here is a crafted nest material holder shaped like a little house, and here is one made from a mesh onion bag.

One of the professional sellers also has a lot of great information about how to make your own and what materials to use. I am going to copy and paste some of that info here, but please know that I got the info from another website:


“You can put out centralized stashes of nest material. It can be natural materials like straw, small sticks, and twigs, or man made items such as yarn and string. Always use natural colored, un-dyed man made items. Try putting out any combination of the following:
– Thin twigs
– Dog and cat hair – If you have dogs or cats, and we do, you know what a cakewalk this one is. Simply brush pet and pull insane volumes of hair from the brush. Later, you can be enormously amused that the cute little bird babies outside were raised in a nest from your pet hair – as your pet glares out the window.
– Human hair – from your hairbrush
– Thin strips of cloth – cut about an 1 wide and 4-6 inches long
– Feathers – old down or feather pillows are a resource for this
– Long dried grasses
– Yarn or thread or string cut into 4-6 inch lengths
– Pieces of cotton, fluff. We actually purchased an inexpensive cotton filled throw pillow on clearance for this and had enough nesting materials to share with all our (equally strange as ourselves) birding friends for several seasons. Next time, it’s a smaller pillow!
– Long wilted leaves from daffodils, tulips or iris
– Small strips of cellophane – cut thinly and 4-6 inches long
– Spanish moss
– Regular moss – Once a season we pick some moss while on walks and lay it out to dry for a few days, them add to our nesting materials supplies.
– Pine needles – plenty of that to go around in most places.
– Milkweed silk – this one is favorite of several species of birds and worth collecting a few pods if you can. American goldfinch and orioles use ot often.
– Horse hair – Do you ride or know anyone that does? Horse hair from manes and tails is great stuff and very strong!

Items we do not use:
– Dryer lint. While there are several opinions about this, we tend to stay away from anything that may harm the birds. If you get dryer lint wet, when it dries it is hard and crumbles apart. Also, it is unclear if dryer sheets or other chemicals used when washing clothing is harmful for birds so we choose to not go there and give them items we are positive will not hurt them. Laundry detergent or fabric softener residue just does not sound good to us. Maybe it will not hurt them is not enough for us to test.
– Plastic sacks such as grocery bags – We have seen these suggested and think it is a very bad idea. Who has not seen a plastic sack after it has gotten wet and then dried up? Maybe you set on a damp spot at one time. They get hard and brittle and the logo dye cracks of them in flakes.”

This website recommends putting these materials out now (early March) to get birds started. I also want to echo what they said about using plastic–I have read that many birds are running into trouble by using plastic fibers in their nests that don’t insulate the way natural materials do. As a result, the eggs don’t stay warm enough and do not hatch. For this reason do not use anything plastic, and the more natural materials you can provide, the better!

I want to end this post by linking to some really amazing bird nest videos from the always lovely Sir David Attenborough. These should get you inspired for the upcoming nesting season!

First, here are some very clever ways that birds camouflage their nests. If you like to craft/sew/make things you should especially watch this! It is astounding to me that birds can do such delicate work with only their beaks!!



Next we have one of my favorite examples, the Australian bowerbird. In addition to building a large covered structure, this bird collects and organizes found objects into pleasing arrangements to attract a mate. Some birds only collect blue items, others have a variety of colors. It is a lot of fun to watch the birds placing everything just so, and examining with a critical eye.



Finally, here is a type of nest I had never seen before looking up the previous videos. It is a giant “apartment complex” of straw that houses hundreds of birds. Keep watching until the end so you can see their little heads poking out!



I also want to give a shout out to one of my favorite nature blogs, The author recently said on Facebook that she is building a nest with her sons out of materials they find on neighborhood walks. She is going to be posting about it soon (I believe tomorrow, Friday), and I encourage you all to check it out!

So what about you, dear readers? Have you noticed any bird nests around? Have you seen any birds building yet around your yard? Do you ever put out building materials for them? What other signs of seasonal change are you noticing and looking forward to?  What do you hope the next season will bring?




Backyard Baby Birds August 13, 2010

Have you ever kept a birdhouse in your yard? Ever thought of keeping one?  Well, today’s guest submissions are sure to inspire you to do just that! Although as you will see, birds don’t always need a wooden house to make a home!

Long time reader of the blog John G. sent in this series of videos of birds living in his yard. The first two show the same set of baby bluebirds from their early days out of the egg to the time they start to grow feathers.




This next video is of the same birdhouse a few weeks later, after those babies had fledged. Looks like there is another brood coming!



The eggs are such a beautiful blue color!

The next two videos are of an amazing wren nest John G. discovered in one of the potted plants hanging on his porch. They are also taken over time, so this is the same brood of chicks as they get older. I love the second video especially because you can hear the tiny sounds they make! Pretty amazing!




So many exciting things are going on all around us! Because of the time John G. spent watching the comings and goings of the wildlife in his backyard, he was able to see the bluebirds nesting in the wooden birdhouse, discover the tiny wren nest hidden in his hanging plant, and safely capture these videos while the parents were away.

What kind of excitement would a birdhouse (or hummingbird feeder, or bird bath, or salt lick) add to your life? It takes a little bit of effort to put them up at first, but I promise the pay-off is great!

What kind of habitats do you have in your yard? Is there anything in particular you do to try to attract wildlife? What kind of creatures–big and small–have stopped by? Feel free to discuss in the comments or send me an e-mail at Finally, many thanks to reader John G. for sending in the videos and sparking this great topic!

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Dove Deja Vu May 25, 2010

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Does this look familiar to anyone?

I walked in to my apartment today to find two doves standing on my balcony just like they did before starting the nest a few weeks ago. They sat there for a while, stretching their wings in exactly the same way they did before nesting, before eventually flying off. I’m really hoping they will nest again and lay some new eggs, although I’m not certain this will happen.

It was exciting to see them again, though, and interesting to know from my observations last time that this behavior might mean they are getting ready to sit on a nest. We’ll have to wait and see what happens!


Empty Nest Syndrome May 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — backyardsafari @ 11:05 pm
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I’m sad to say that our young mourning dove friends have all flown, before I could even get a good picture of them! It’s amazing how fast they grew up–I wish I had checked for babies a little more often, but I would have had to scare away the parents in order to get a good look and I just wasn’t willing to do it for now.

After all of that sitting and waiting on the nest, through rain and cold, one day I came home and one of the doves was sitting on the railing in front of the window. It flew away after I moved into the room and I ran to the other window to see if anything was sitting on the nest. Nothing! So I ran outside to the balcony and saw that all of them were gone!

I have to admit I am a little sad. I miss knowing that they are out there. The benefit of it, though, is that now when I see a mourning dove I know it could be one of “our” doves–the babies that were incubated, hatched, and fledged from a little potted plant on my balcony.

One of the most impressive things to me about the mourning doves is their extremely punctual nature! Everything they did was very textbook — the male and female changed places on the nest every day at 9:30 am and 5:30 pm, and they were on the nest for exactly 4 weeks–the amount of time every source gives for the hatching and fledging of young.

I’ll miss the doves. It was such a great experience to share my living space with them while it lasted. Every time I peeked out from behind a curtain there was that dark black eye, watching my movements, looking out–as all parents do–for anything that might try to hurt its young. Watching them stretch their wings after a long night sitting on the nest I could see that we’re really not so different.

So good luck to the next generation that is now flying off to find their own potted plants! And remember–there is an open space on my balcony for anyone who wants to give me dove grandchildren!


Congratulations Mourning Doves! May 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — backyardsafari @ 10:57 am
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I am delighted to announce the hatching of at least one of the mourning dove eggs on my balcony! Baby doves are called “squabs,” and will be in the nest for about 2 more weeks before taking off.

I haven’t checked on them for a few days and I peeked out my bedroom window today to see one of the doves feeding a fuzzy baby! Unfortunately I cannot get a good picture from that window, so you will have to make do with the ones I took from my balcony. I was afraid to scare the dove off the nest to get a good picture because there were some other large birds swooping and hanging around a tree nearby. I thought if I scared the parent one of those birds might dart in to try to get a meal. I have no idea if these fears are justified or not, but for now these photos are all I have.  Take note in these pictures of the sad state of my boston fern plant. I was afraid to water it after they built the nest because I thought it might ruin something so the rain is the only real water this plant has had.

As I was walking up to the nest the parent dove stuck its head out the side. I love this picture–it is so confrontational! I imagine this look is saying something like, “Just what exactly do you think you’re doing here?”

I was able to stick my camera towards the side of the nest from a safe distance–you can’t see too much of the baby, but it is underneath the adult:

The young one actually seems to have a fair amount of feathers–I wish I had been more watchful for when exactly they hatched! Look at how puffed up and unhappy the adult is.  I left them alone after this, but I am hoping to get some more pictures later. Maybe when the baby (babies?) is a little older they will leave it on its own and I can get a quick photo.

Congratulations to the new parents! All of that sitting through the rain and cold has finally paid off!