What Do Birds Do When Their Nest Is Destroyed?

what do birds do when their nest is destroyed

Many birds react differently if their nest is destroyed. If they are nesting at the time, some will rebuild it while some will choose to abandon it and the eggs or nestlings inside. A lot depends on how many broods they have and whether or not they reuse their nest.

Why are bird’s nests destroyed?

There are a number of reasons why nests are destroyed.

  • Extreme weather can blow nests out of trees, or destroy the trees they are built in.
  • Gardeners can accidentally damage nests if they are chopping trees or pruning bushes.
  • In some cases, predators can reach the nest and cause damage.
  • Some birds like to help themselves to nesting materials from other bird’s nests.

Many birds do not reuse the same nest for each breeding season, but they won’t destroy the old nest. If you find an old nest which is empty, you can safely remove it. The birds will rebuild when they return, as the old nest will be dirty and have parasites in it.

What birds do if their nest is destroyed

If the nest is fully destroyed, they often abandon it, and this can mean they abandon the eggs or nestlings too. Some birds, however, will build a new nest, so let’s see what some common birds do.

Hummingbird

Many of us look out for the hummingbird migration when they find new nesting sites. Some hummers stay in the same place all year round though, so they will react differently if their nest is destroyed.

Due to their size, hummingbirds and their babies are prey to larger birds and rodents, and these often destroy the nests if they can reach them.

  • If the nest is destroyed and the mother hasn’t yet laid her egg, she will rebuild it. It may be that she rebuilds the original one or builds a new one.
  • A migrating bird who has laid her eggs may simply leave. She will try to find her eggs or babies and if she cannot find them, she will have no choice but to head home.
  • Non-migrating birds are more likely to rebuild their nests if they are destroyed. It’s not unusual for them to build several nests if bad weather or predators destroy them.

Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are fun to watch but can be painful on the ears when they are building their nest. As they build them in tree cavities, it is difficult to destroy them, but this can happen in severe weather if the tree is blown down.

Given the work that goes in to the nest, it may not be possible for the woodpecker to build a new one and if they cannot help their babies, they may just abandon the nest.

Northern cardinal

Northern Cardinals are another popular species with their flash of color in the garden. They often build two nests as they have more than one brood a year, so if one nest is destroyed, they can still use the second nest.

Eagle

Eagles tend to reuse the same nest year after year. They will return and repair it before they begin nesting and laying their eggs. It’s probably because they reuse their nests, that they will build a new one if a nest is destroyed. This is usually very close to the original one.

Mallard

Ducks and mallards can have several broods a year. If their nest is destroyed, they are likely to build a new one close by and lay more eggs.

If you see a nest unattended, don’t go near it. The mother will be close by foraging for food and she will have one eye on her chicks. She hasn’t abandoned it.

Vultures

Many vultures don’t actually build a nest. They prefer to lay their eggs in thick vegetation and cover it up. If the tree or area where they have laid their eggs is destroyed, they will not rebuild, as there is nothing to rebuild. They will instead choose a different nesting site for the next egg.

Owls

By the end of the nesting season, owls’ nests have been pretty much destroyed by the young anyway.  If a nest is unintentionally destroyed, it will often be abandoned.

Nests on the ground

Many people find nests on the ground which have blown out of trees. If you find one intact with eggs or nestlings in, place it back in its original location if you can, or as close to it as possible. There’s a good chance the parents will be close by watching, and in many cases they then continue to nest and raise their young.

If you find a baby bird on the ground, it may not be so simple.

  • It may have simply fallen out of the nest so look around and see if you can find it. If the bird is uninjured carefully pick him up and put him back in the nest.
  • If the bird is a fledgling, than this is natural and the parents will be close by watching. If the bird is in an exposed area and there may be danger, move it carefully in to bushes or cover.
  • If the bird is injured, contact your local wildlife center and they will be able to help you. Without injuring it further, make sure it is safe from predators.
  • If the nest is damaged, then you will need to make one for it. Your local wildlife center will be able to help you with this and will tell you the best things to do to help the baby.

birds nest on the ground

Frequently Asked Questions:

What should I do if the parents abandon babies in the nest?

This can be a problem. If a nest is damaged and the parents leave, there is no one to care for their young.

First, make sure the parents have gone by watching the nest. If they do not come back, get in touch with your local wildlife center. You will need to make sure the young are safe and well cared for. If you think you can do this yourself, the wildlife center will be able to advise you on the best action to take and what you need to do to help the young.

A destroyed nest still has eggs in it. What do I do?

If there is no sign of the parents and you are sure they have gone, contact your wildlife center immediately.

If you remove the eggs to try to keep them warm, you could actually be fined. It is illegal to remove birds or eggs from an active nest. If the nest is newly damaged and abandoned, then the wildlife center may be able to help. If it’s been a few days, then it may be too late to save the eggs.

How do I make a substitute nest?

Only do this if you have nestlings to look after on the advice of your wildlife center. If the nest is damaged and they are still in it, then don’t do anything if they are in a safe place and unlikely to fall. If they have fallen from a nest and you cannot put them back, then make a temporary nest to keep them warm.

  • You need something that will let moisture out so a basket is ideal. Line it with shredded paper towels or paper. You can also use dried grass, small twigs and leaves. Don’t use fresh grass as the moisture in this can cause the bird’s temperature to drop.
  • When you have the lining, make a hole in the middle of the bedding where the bird can feel safe.
  • Ideally you need to then fix this to a tree in a safe area away from predators. This is the natural environment for the birds and as they grow, they will be encouraged to fly.
  • Having made a safe nest, the babies will need food and water. You can feed them yourself if you have the right foods, but you’re best to contact a wildlife center who will probably keep an eye on the new nest for you.

Here’s a great video from Bowdoin College on how to actually build a birds nest, enjoy.

So, as you see, there is no hard and fast rule how birds will react if their nest is destroyed. While this can be distressing if you find one, it doesn’t mean that any birds in it will perish, though some do. If you do find a destroyed nest and it’s not empty, don’t move it as this is illegal. Always contact your local wildlife center and keep an eye on the nest for them.

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