Friday, June 14, 2013

My Favorite Bird Nests, Part II

One of my favorite activities is observing bird behavior, particularly courtship and nesting. It is always a thrill to watch a bird select nesting material, then take it back to the nest. We’ll examine some of that behavior in greater detail in a future post. Today I want to complete the list of my favorite bird nests. (Click here for the first five nests.)

Bell’s vireo: This small, shy bird with an outsized voice builds one of the most amazing nests I’ve seen in person. Like a hummingbird nest, it is a tightly woven cup, with decorations on the outside. But unlike most hummer nests, the Bell’s vireo nest is actually a hanging basket, attached to a tree at two points.

Last year, a Bell’s vireo built her nest shoulder high and right by a walking trail at Tohono Chul Park. As you can see below, this nest is beautifully made. I am unable to imagine how a little bird, using only her beak and her feet, could create something so beautiful and elaborately wrought. So many people gathered to watch and photograph this nest that she sadly abandoned it, with one egg having been laid.

Bell's vireo nest Tohono Chul Park 6-1-2012 9-20-57 AM 3616x2712

This year, we had two Bell’s vireo nests in different parts of the Park, both high above the trails. Each of these nests fledged at least two broods of chicks.

Bell's vireo nest 3 best 4-13-2013 9-39-44 AM 984x823Bell’s nest in Texas Ebony


Bell's vireo nest in olive tree 4-22-2013 9-55-32 AM 3616x2712Bell’s nest in Olive Tree

 Hummingbirds: Most years we have several hummingbird nests at Tohono Chul, many of them easily observable. These tiny nests are very tightly woven, but stretchable, allowing the baby hums to grow. When the nests in a hummingbird aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum began falling apart, it was discovered that the material needed to hold them together was spider silk. Spiders were added to the aviary, solving the problem.

The following hummingbird nests were photographed at Tohono Chul. I don’t know the species, but they are Anna’s, Costa’s, or Black-chinned. (For more on these species, see My Hummingbirds.)

newmamahum 3-2-2011 8-48-57 AM 1005x870I think this mama is a Costa’s.

Humbabies 3 6-11-2011 10-18-30 AM 1480x1657Waiting for mom to bring food…

Baby hums 3-28-2011 9-23-53 AM 912x957       They grow up so fast… these little guys are ready to fledge.

Cactus wren:  The cactus wren, the State Bird of Arizona, is one of the best nesters around. Their nests are large, messy, enclosed structures often decorated with odd bits of debris. Cactus wrens are known for building multiple nests, perhaps as decoys, though no one knows for sure. A cactus wren with nesting material in its beak is a very common sight in the Sonoran Desert.

messy cactus wren nest 8-29-2011 7-54-56 AM 1884x1934 Typical cactus wren nest, decorated with what looks like tissue paper and fiber-fill. When I’ve left lengths of colored yarn outside, cactus wrens often incorporated them into their nests.

Cactus Wren Building Nest in SaguaroThis wren and its partner built this nest and another nearby. For a short video of the process, click here.


  1. What you said in an earlier post about how the trees don't block the view like they do back East is evident here. We almost never see bird nests, because they are deep in the foliage. The exception being the finches that nests in hanging ferns on the front porch. We finally stopped hanging them because of the mess.

    1. It amazes me that anybody can go birding in a real forest. The few times I've tried I've had a very hard time seeing anything but trees and leaves.