Why is a Robin Hovering Around a Cardinal’s Nest?

The Question: We have a bird nest in our backyard that was made by a cardinal. Recently, we noticed that a robin seems to be hovering around the cardinals’ nest. The cardinals seem upset by this, and seem to work as a team to keep the robin at bay. Can you explain what is going on?

Submitted by: Laura R.

The Short Answer: Laura, most likely the robin is waiting for the cardinals to make a mistake so it can raid their nest, either to steal nesting materials, or more likely, to steal eggs or baby cardinals. Birds are constantly looking for opportunities to raid nests. It’s a hard fact of life that eggs and baby birds are a much sought-after treat. I’ve seen sparrows chase blue jays, blue jays chase crows, and crows chase hawks. Everyone’s babies are at risk. To make matters even worse for baby birds, squirrels also often raid nests.

Parent birds must be ever vigilant.

For an update to this story, go to this post:  Will Robins and Cardinals Share a Nest?

Cite this article as: Pelletier, TC. (May 12, 2010). Why is a Robin Hovering Around a Cardinal’s Nest? Retrieved from http://askanaturalist.com/why-is-a-robin-hovering-around-a-cardinal%e2%80%99s-nest/ on July 3, 2020.

25 thoughts on “Why is a Robin Hovering Around a Cardinal’s Nest?”

  1. that is a not a very accurate answer
    Robins are not generally known for “treating” on young birds, this is an act mostly reserved for rodents and prey birds such as hawks. Blue Jays and starlings are bullies and will steal a nest generally ejecting eggs that have already been laid. It is rare and there is very little literature about it but do a little research on nest sharing, I have a Robin’s nest with 2 young and one Robin egg (until all the feathers come in I cannot be sure who the young belong to) It is always the Robin I see on the nest during the day, but the Cardinal Male brings food to the nest. The female Cardinal and Male Robin are also about frequently, but are more skittish and I cannot yet determine their roles.

  2. Jessy has a point. And you can find more about this at the link I added to the end of the article above.

  3. My Labrador scared 3 baby robins out of their nest. They ran in 3 different directions. One went into my husband’s garage. We found it the following day and returned it to its nest. Surprisingly,the mother returned with a male cardinal. I’m waiting to see if the baby is still there tomorrow.

  4. A cardinal couple just hatched 1 baby 3 days ago,one egg not hatched outside my window in a tall,bushy small tree size woody weed. I left for one afternoon,when back noticed no birds,nest totally empty,not even lining or one feather or eggshells,nothing to give a clue in or around nest.What or who raided the nest.??

  5. Right now, things like crows, bluejays, hawks and squirrels are all actively raiding the nests of other birds to steal chicks. Any of those could have raided a cardinal nest. As for the cleanliness of the nest, parents often clean the nest of eggshells. If all the eggs had hatched, the parents might have cleaned up eggshells already, so when someone stole the chicks, there would be nothing left. Or someone might have stolen hatched chicks and unhatched eggs whole, in which case there also would be no evidence.

  6. I just witnessed the raiding of a nest. I saw a crow land on my neighbors roof with something in his mouth (probably an egg) and soon two other birds began to chase him away. So, I went around the corner of my house just in time to see a Robin with a blue egg in his mouth fly from a tree. When I went to the tree, I found a beautiful little nest completely empty.

  7. This last day or so I’ve noticed a robin hanging around a lot and the sparrows are going crazy and chasing the robin out of the immediate area of their nest the robin keeps returning and trying to stay up by nest. The sparrows do the whole thing over again to chase him away. Before we noticed all of that we had found several eggs in driving a good length away from nest. The eggs were no good they had been cracked open with partially developed birds inside.

  8. I watched a pair of cardinals build a nest which has been taken over by robins in the last few days. The female cardinal however still sits on the nest from time to time. What goes? Not sure if there are eggs at all inside the nest, or if there are, who they belong to.

  9. Hi Michael. That’s an interesting situation you are describing. It could be that the female cardinal is simply “confused.” Animal behavior is not always rational (as with human behavior!). It could be that the triggers that lead a female cardinal to sit on a nest are all still there. In other words, “I built a nest. I mated with a male cardinal. I laid some eggs. Therefore, I should sit on those eggs till they hatch.” I’m not saying the cardinal thinks that, of course. I’m just saying that the behavior works that way, the same way a person is “programmed” to respond when a baby cries. Female birds don’t always know the difference between their eggs and someone else’s, as evidenced by the fact that cuckoos and cowbirds can get other birds to care for their eggs by simply laying them in other birds’ nests. My guess is the female cardinal will eventually figure out that it’s not her nest anymore, but it might take a while.

  10. I watched the robins destroy not one but two flycatcher nests this season. In the case of the second nest the flycatcher had already laid 5 eggs and the robin tossed them out and tore apart the nest only to then build up the nest to her satisfaction whereupon she now sits on 4 of her eggs. Meanwhile the flycatcher returned to and rebuilt her original nest where she now awaits the hatching of her eggs.

  11. I have a couple of Cardinals in my yard and it looks as if they’re looking for a place to build a nest. I also have a lot of blue jays in my yard. I’ve looked all over the internet and cannot find the answer to my question anywhere… which is do I have to worry about the Blue Jays going after the Cardinals eggs or babies? I know Blue Jays are aggressive and I know that they are known to eat eggs and babies and I’m worried about this.

  12. So we have a cardinal nest in our backyard tree that we’ve observed for the past week and a half. We constantly observed the mama cardinal sitting on her nest and then flying away. But today we saw a blue jay near the nest and then a scuffle between the male cardinal and the jay. We went out to help scare it away and checked the nest and all three eggs were there and unharmed. Then we left the house and when we came home and checked the nest, all three eggs were gone! I know things like this happen in the wild but it’s heartbreakig nonetheless. I’m assuming the blue jay came back and stole them. But do you think there’s a chance the cardinal’s relocated them?

  13. I’m afraid I don’t think that’s very likely. Birds don’t generally move eggs. As you can imagine, it would be very hard for a cardinal to pick up an egg. I suspect what happened was that the male cardinal successfully defended the nest the first time, but the blue jay came back when the cardinal wasn’t watching. If it’s any consolation, the same thing happens to blue jays, with crows or hawks as the predators. And if the male cardinal happened upon a nest of unprotected eggs of a smaller bird, he might do the same. The other thing is that it’s early in the season. The cardinals will almost certainly build another nest and start over. Hopefully in a more hidden or defensible spot. Tom

  14. I watched a pair of cardinals build a nest outside my window only to be taken over by a robin. There was a lot of squawking but the robin won and now there are 3 blue robin eggs in the nest.

  15. I have seen a cardinal sitting on a very skimpy nest. A few days later its a bit bigger and female and male cardinal are up in the tree looking around. Layer they left. Then later i go out to check and a rovin is on the nest. What gives?

  16. Hi Kathi, probably the robins, which are larger than cardinals, bullied them off the nest and took over. Tom

  17. I discovered a fallen robin’s nest in my front yard and placed the one living nestling back in it in a box I nailed to the tree (the lowest limbs are at least ten feet tall so I couldn’t do much better). The mom and dad robin resumed feeding and caring for the little guy who was doing quite well when I checked on him last night. This morning I noticed from my window that one of the parents was frequently visiting the box (multiple times within 5 minutes). When I walked by this morning, both the nest and the nestling are gone without a trace – no remnants of the nest or the baby bird anywhere to be found! Would a predator remove the nest intact? I’m so puzzled (and sad of course!).

  18. Hi Sara, I’m afraid that does sound like some sort of predator got the nest. Why they carted off the entire structure, I’m not sure. They would be more likely to dump it on the ground. I could, however, very easily imagine a dog then picking it up, because it would probably smell and taste interesting. Do you have a dog? I suppose another predator might also do the same thing. How big was the chick? And how close to the ground was the moved nest?

  19. Thank you for the answer! I do have a dog, but he can’t get in the front yard where the tree is. We have a lot of potential predators in our neighborhood though, from raccoons to possums to a redtailed hawk. The nest was probably about four feet off the ground. The chick was close to fully feathered. Trying to learn as much as possible in case I encounter this again!

  20. Sara, if the chick was close to fully feathered, we can hope that maybe it flew off and is safe somewhere with its parents. Tom

  21. I’ve been watching our returning bluebirds fend of a robin (could be separate attempts from different robins) from an old coffee pot I have hung up on the pergola. Only when the robin gets too close will the male and female bluebird react and make a run before he gets any closer. Interestingly, there is a food source near by (blueberry bush) that the robins frequent.

  22. We have a pair of cardinals diligently building their nest. The female began sitting on the nest two weeks ago. I am assuming the eggs will hatch very soon. This morning I noticed a robin building a nest right beside the cardinal nest! What to do? I cannot see inside the cardinal nest? the mother returns to the nest when the robin is scurrying around for nesting material. Should I know down the robin’s in-progress nest?

  23. Last summer we had swallows on our balcony raise 5 chicks, then after a short vacation they came back and raised 5 more. Yay! The first clutch (maybe) hung around … or did they? Did they migrate south together? I was privileged to work with a 2nd generation investigator on oxytocin, bonding, siblings raising the younger ones in Prairie Voles so of course my mind went to them but I doubt there was any rearing of the younger clutch by the older going on.

  24. We have a Robin sitting on 3 eggs in a Cardinal nest from last year. Is that common?

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