|The Question: I found the dearest little nest a few days ago. This graceful nest hangs just above the ground beside a path in the local woods. It was perhaps a foot off the ground and was pendulous like an oriole nest. It was approximately 5 inches long and at the widest part, maybe 3 inches. As to its location: there is a sluggish little run-off stream that meanders through a second-growth woods. The nearest true wetlands has to be a mile or so away. There are vernal pools in this area, but no marshes proximate. Any ideas as to who built it? A friend and I perused her bird nest book and came up with Red-eyed vireo.
Submitted by: Cathy, Ohio, USA
The Short Answer: Since this photo was taken in winter, the nest has been abandoned for a while and has probably lost shape, which makes identification difficult. However, Bernd Heinrich – one of the world’s foremost naturalists and animal behavior scientists, author of innumerable scientific papers, and nearly 20 books, including “Mind of the Raven” and recently “The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy” – is willing to make a guess that it’s the nest of a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Dr. Heinrich, who is also an emeritus professor at the University of Vermont, is certain it wasn’t made by a red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). He’s also convinced it’s not one of the orioles (Baltimore oriole, Icterus galbula or Orchard oriole Icterus spurius). He points out that orioles use fibers, not grass, and weave them carefully. And he asserts that orioles never nest this close to the ground. Dr. Heinrich has some excellent pictures and descriptions of other bird nests at this site: http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/which-bird-made-that-nest/.
Kenyon Widger, of Cornell University’s NestWatch program, agrees with Dr. Heinrich that red-winged blackbird is a good possibility. She thinks one of the orioles is also a possibility, however, as she reports that she has seen oriole nests within a few feet of the ground. The NestWatch program, by the way, is a great example of “citizen science,” where data gathered by non-scientists can help researchers answer questions that would be difficult to answer any other way. By recording bird nests in your neighborhood and registering your nests with NestWatch, you can contribute to the study of bird behavior. For more information on the NestWatch program, go to: www.nestwatch.org.
Cathy’s Site: Questioner Cathy has a very nice blog: http://lookingup1.blogspot.com/
Delightful! Thank you so much your research and enlisting the help of these kind experts.
I suppose a vireo is a bit more romantic than a red-winged blackbird, but let’s give credit to the blackbird for her lovely little incubator 😉
Why WOULD either of those birds nest that close to the ground? Isn’t that within range of a fox or something to just reach up and get the eggs?
The nest looks very exposed now, but during the summer, it might have been covered with leaves and not very visible. Predation on bird nests is high, with most studies finding that about three quarters of bird eggs and chicks get eaten before they fledge. The biggest predators are other birds, rodents (squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and even mice), and snakes. Where you put your nest is a function of who eats most of your babies. Egg-predating birds like crows and jays don’t find nests in deep leaf cover or near the ground as well as they find exposed nests high in trees. Rodents tend to find nests by smell, so they aren’t much thwarted by leaf cover. But they can’t fly, so nests out at the ends of branches are hard for them to reach. You might think that nests on the ground are in great danger, but the fact that so many birds nest directly on the ground (and not just ground birds like quail) suggests that a well concealed ground nest is sometimes safer than a nest in a tree. The safest of all nests, however, tend to be tree cavities.