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Birds have evolved numerous means of constructing nests. Here is a look at a few outstanding examples.

anchored nest

Grebes build nests anchored in emergent plants using leaves and stems of aquatic vegetation.

Pied-billed Grebe      Podilymbus podiceps

brood parasites

Cowbirds, some cuckoos, and other brood parasites lay eggs in other birds nest, leaving it up to another species to raise their brood.

Brown-headed Cowbird      Molothrus ater

burrow nest

Birds that nest in burrows often modify the tunnels of ground squirrels and other burrowing mammals.

Burrowing Owl      Athene cunicularia

burrow nest 2

Shearwaters use the same burrow for nesting year after year. By the time a chick is fully feathered, it weighs more than its parents and is abandoned. A week or so later it finally leaves the burrow and flies out to sea on its own.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater      Puffinus pacificus

burrow nests 3

Many seabirds on islands free of mammalian predators use burrows for nesting.

Atlantic Puffin      Fratercula arctica


Nests in rainy forests are often camouflaged with moss, lichens, or other materials.

Sunbittern      Eurypyga helias

cave nests

Black-nest Swiftlets seek the safety of pitch-black cave walls where they cement their nests with saliva. People gather nests for bird's nest soup. The swiftlets navigate in the dark using echolocation.

Black-nest Swiftlet      Aerodramus maximus

cavities beneath tree bark

Brown Creepers are unusual in that they often nest in spaces beneath tree bark.

Brown Creeper      Certhia americana

cavities in banks

Burrows tunneling deep into vertical banks provide predator-free nesting for a number of swallows, bee-eaters, kingfishers and other birds.

Bank Swallow      Riparia riparia

cavities in banks 2

Cavities in banks like these are used year after year.

Bank Swallow      Riparia riparia

cavities in banks 3

Carmine Bee-eaters seek the safety of mud banks for their colonial nests.

Carmine Bee-eater      Merops nubicus

cliff nest

Cliff nests provide safety from most predators, though they can be precarious when young start to wander.

Black-legged Kittiwake      Rissa tridactyla

colonial nesting

Flat ground on islands provides a safe site for colonial nesting Brandt's Cormorants.

Brandt's Cormorant      Phalacrocorax penicillatus

colonial seabirds

Dense colonies of seabirds take advantage of inaccessible islands to avoid most predators.

Northern Gannet      Morus bassanus

colonial tree nesters

Female Montezuma Oropendolas weave giant hanging nests (up to 180 cm, 6ft.). An alpha male dominates breeding in the colony.

Montezuma Oropendola      Psarocolius montezuma

communal bird house

Purple Martins now nest almost exclusively in communal nest boxes or closely arranged plastic "gourds," though in the American West a few nest in tree cavities.

Purple Martin      Progne subis

communal nest

Nests of the Social Weaver house up to 95 individual chambers. Each chamber may be attended by a pair and several helpers, usually adult offspring of the pair. There may be several hundred birds associated with one nest.

Social Weaver      Philetairus socius

communal nest 2

Social weavers construct their communal nest primarily with dried grass. Other species of birds and small animals may also use parts of the nest.

Social Weaver      Philetairus socius

communal nests 3

Multiple female Ostriches lay their eggs in one nest, which is later cared for by one female and one male.

Common Ostrich      Struthio camelus

cup nest of mud

Dried mud holds the cup nest of the White-winged Chough onto a branch.

White-winged Chough      Corcorax melanorhamphos

cup nest on a branch

White-crested Helmetshrikes use spider webs to bind their nests. Siblings from previous broods help raise the chicks.

White-crested Helmetshrike      Prionops plumatus

domed nest with side entrance

Nestled safely in a cactus or yucca, Cactus Wren nests often include a long entrance tunnel.

Cactus Wren      Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

domed nest with side entrance

A number of birds that nest in reeds build globular nests with entrances on the side.

Grosbeak Weaver      Amblyospiza albifrons

domed nest with side entrance 2

Marsh Wren males build multiple nests, leaving several dummy nests unused for every nest with a brood.

Marsh Wren      Cistothorus palustris

down nest

Many birds line their nests with down feathers, which is a great insulator. Eiders create their nests largely from down plucked from their own breasts.

Common Eider      Somateria mollissima

egg alignment

Shorebirds align the pointed ends of their eggs toward the center to pack the eggs into the tightest space for incubation.

Semipalmated Plover      Charadrius semipalmatus

floating nest

Coot nests often float anchored to emergent vegetation.

Red-knobbed Coot      Fulica cristata

ground nest

The beautifully colored tinamou eggs are normally hidden beneath the cryptically-colored male.

Elegant Crested-Tinamou      Eudromia elegans

ground nest 2

Ground nesting birds are especially vulnerable to depredations of cats.

Black-and-white Warbler      Mniotilta varia

hummingbird nest

Many hummingbirds gather spider silk to hold nests together. A number of species, including Ruby-throated Hummingbirds decorate the nests with lichens, making the tiny nests even harder to see.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird      Archilochus colubris


Murres simply lay eggs on a rock ledge, forgoing the chore of building a nest. The oblong shape of the egg allows it to spin in a circle, making it less likely to roll off the ledge.

Thick-billed Murre      Uria lomvia

minimalist 2

White Terns lay a single egg directly on a branch, where they will incubate it and eventually raise the chick.

White Tern      Gygis alba


Long-tailed Potoo lays an egg on the end of a broken off trunk, relying on camouflage to conceal the site.

Long-tailed Potoo      Nyctibius aethereus

mound builders

Mallee Fowl, brush-turkeys and some scrubfowl build mounds of warming compost to incubate their eggs.

Mallee Fowl      Leipoa ocellata

mud and grass nest

Black-browned Albatrosses build elevated mud and grass nests, often in exposed locations where they can take off easily.

Black-browed Albatross      Thalassarche melanophris

mud pellet nests

Mud pellet nests provide shelter and safety when plastered high on a cliff or beneath the road bed of a bridge.

Cliff Swallow      Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

nest box

Whistling-ducks and Wood Ducks are especially amenable to using nest boxes.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck      Dendrocygna autumnalis

nest box 2

A number of species of owls accept nest boxes.

Boreal Owl      Aegolius funereus

nest box 3

An artificial burrow provides a nest site for a Burrowing Owl.

Burrowing Owl      Athene cunicularia

nest box 4

Falcons prefer nest boxes with a large opening on one side.

Eurasian Kestrel      Falco tinnunculus

nest box 5

A look down into an active Oak Titmouse nest in a bird box.

Oak Titmouse      Baeolophus inornatus

nest sanitation

Squirting feces beyond the rim of the nest keeps the nest itself clean.

Gentoo Penguin      Pygoscelis papua

nests in warm sand

Maleos and several species of scrubfowl use warm sand or soil to incubate eggs, frequently rearranging the sand to regulate temperature.

Maleo      Macrocephalon maleo

oven nest

Horneros nest in conspicuous locations, shaping mud into the shape of an old-fashioned oven.

Rufous Hornero      Furnarius rufus

palm leaf nest

Fork-tailed Palm Swifts attack flying birds to pilfer their feathers for their saliva-and-feather nests.

Fork-tailed Palm Swift      Tachornis squamata

pouchlike nest

Made of spider webs, twigs, mosses, lichens, and rootlets, bushtit nests blend well with the environment. These elaborate nests require two to seven weeks to build.

Bushtit      Psaltriparus minimus

pouchlike nest2

Male Penduline Tits start the construction of the nest to attract a female. The female may then complete the nest, while the male starts a new nest for another female. At other times the female may lay eggs and leave the care to the male, while she searches for another mate and nest.

Penduline Tit      Remiz pendulinus

pendulous cup nest

This intricately-woven, deep sock-like nest is difficult for predators to enter.

Altamira Oriole      Icterus gularis

perpetual builder

Hamerkops construct huge, elaborate nests year-round. The nest may exceed 100 times the weight of the bird.

Hamerkop      Scopus umbretta

primary cavity nester

Woodpeckers chisel out nests in trees and snags, which later may be used by other species.

Pileated Woodpecker      Dryocopus pileatus

recycled nest

Owls do not build nests, but often expropriate those of other birds, usually after they are finished using them.

Great Horned Owl      Bubo virginianus

rock pile nest

In Antarctica choices for nest materials are severely limited, so Chinstrap, Adelie, and Gentoo penguins use stones in their nest.

Chinstrap Penguin      Pygoscelis antarctica


Birds nesting on the ground may do little more than mold a shallow depression, called a scrape, to accommodate their eggs.

Black Skimmer      Rynchops niger

sea stacks

Sea stacks are typically free of any terrestrial predators, making them ideal locations for seabirds that build nests on open ground.

Australasian Gannet      Morus serrator

sealed cavity nest

Cavity nests of hornbills are sealed with droppings and sticky food remains by the female, leaving only a narrow slit for the male and any nest helpers to deliver food. The female remains incarcerated within the nest until the young are ready to fledge.

Great Hornbill      Buceros bicornis

secondary cavity nesters

Where natural cavities are not available, many birds rely on the work of woodpeckers to provide them with nesting sites.

Eastern Bluebird      Sialia sialis

termite nests

Tropical hole-nesters such as trogons and parakeets may excavate nest cavities inside termite nests.

Orange-chinned Parakeet      Brotogeris jugularis

tree-nesting gull

Unlike most other gulls, Bonaparte's gulls seek the safety of trees to nest near water in boreal forest.

Bonaparte's Gull      Chroicocephalus philadelphia

tree-nesting seabird

Marbled Murrelet is unique among seabirds in nesting high on branches in trees within old growth forests.

Marbled Murrelet      Brachyramphus marmoratus

unnatural platforms

A Great Kiskadee has found a convenient nest platform in a seemingly hazardous site.

Great Kiskadee      Pitangus sulphuratus

unnatural platforms 2

Barn Owls nest in barns and other buildings, as well as cavities in cliffs.

Barn Owl      Tyto alba

unnatural platforms 3

Barn Swallows will nest on any suitable platform where they have a roof over their head.

Barn Swallow      Hirundo rustica

unnatural platforms 4

Platforms constructed especially for Osprey now account for a large proportion of their nest sites.

Osprey      Pandion haliaetus

unnatural platforms 5

Rafters of farm buildings provide a safe place to nest and a source of food (spilled grain, etc.) nearby.

Mourning Dove      Zenaida macroura

unnatural platforms 6

White Storks frequently use buildings as sites for their large stick nests.

White Stork      Ciconia ciconia

woven nest

Polygynous Male Baya weavers weave several nests within the colony to entice females. The long entrances make access to predators difficult;

Baya Weaver      Ploceus philippinus