Do Birds Reuse Nests? Which Birds? Which Nests? Why and When!


I’ve seen birds using nests, and I’ve seen abandoned or unused nests, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen the same nest used twice, or even by a different bird. So here’s where we need to find out for sure.

Here’s the quick answer, then we’ll look at this in a bit more detail.

Do Birds Reuse Nests? Yes, some birds do reuse nests, if the nest is robust enough for another bird to reuse it. Birds who reuse nests tend to clear the nest out or add new materials on top. Birds reuse nests because either the nest is large enough to build on top of, or it’s convenient to use what is already available.

But it’s important to remember that most birds do not use their own nest again, or a re-built nest at all in fact. This is because many bird species are just designed to build nests as part of the breeding process. Plus some nests are not durable enough to last for more than one season and in such situations, a new nest has to be built anyway.

Building a new nest is often a part of the male bird proving their worthiness to their mate, or the female’s way of preparing for her brood. With that quick answer, let’s see some common questions many have with birds reusing nests.

Which birds reuse their nests

Eagles, hawks and other large predatory birds are famous for reusing nests over the course of many years. Which we can assume is down to convenience, as they build very large nests, so it’s not quite that easy for them to build it all over again each time, plus a point of returning to the same area to breed again.

hawks on a nest
hawks on a nest

Even birds like hummingbirds reuse the same nest year after year. Birds do this by adding more materials on top each year with the older materials forming a base.

Reusing also has much to do with the nesting spot. Some birds reuse nests because of the comfort of the nesting spot. In cases where the nests can no longer be reused, birds tend to reuse the space nesting spot. Especially red-headed woodpeckers, tree swallows, and robins who tend to build new nests in the same spot.

Swallows particularly wait for their nests to fall each winter so they can build a new nest in the same spot.

Only if the nesting spot is disturbed or their brood doesn’t survive will the birds move on to a different area to nest.

Do birds use other birds nests?

Yes, birds use the nests of other birds. Especially when birds migrate during different seasons, other birds occupy these leftover nests until the migrated bird has returned.

Similarly, we all know birds build nests in a variety of places like hollow cavities, tree branches and even in underground nests. So depending on the environment birds use different materials to build their nests.

Because of this even if birds can’t use the nests of other birds they take good advantage of the materials used in the nests and they recycle them to build new nests. That’s if birds don’t really like the way another bird’s nest is made, they will make use of the materials and build their own nests and some birds do this as a matter of course anyway.

Are nests used every year?

So yes, many birds will reuse their nests each year. Especially birds like woodpeckers who make a new nest each year and use it only once. From that point, it’s used by other birds. Usually, a pair of chickadees or titmice will use the woodpecker nest every spring.

I’ve previously heard of a blue-throated Hummingbird that was using a nest for four consecutive years. During these four years, the nest keeps getting taller and taller with new materials on top.

The bird had three breeds in the same nests for all those four years. Later the owner knocked down the nest for some reason. But the bird re-built a brand new nest within about one week after it was knocked down, all set for her next brood.

Resources

Why not try your hand at bird watching and see if you can tell when a nest has been re-used? Below are the bird spotting field guides for your area that’s perfect for taking the children or class out for some birding!

North America: National Geographic Field Guide – Birds of North America,(or for just Canada)

South America: Birds of South America: Passerines

Britain & Europe: RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe (Rspb Guides)

Australia: Field Guide to Birds of Australia

Asia: Central Asia, South East Asia, or India

Africa: Eastern Africa, Western Africa, Southern Africa, Serengeti, Horn of Africa

And, if you’re looking to get started at birding! Then choosing the right starter binoculars can be really tough!
So check out this national geographic binoculars starter kit for your new Twitcher expeditions!

National Geographic Bird Watching Binocular Starter Kit

And finally…

I hope this has been useful for discovering whether birds reuse nests or not. If you have anything to add or some new discovery then we’d be delighted to hear from you, simply add your comments below and we’ll see if it’s something we can add into the article.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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