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How to Identify Bird Nests

Updated April 17, 2017

One doesn't have to be a bird enthusiast to be intrigued by birds, their habitat and all of the characteristics that make them unique creatures. Few people can happen by a bird's nest without feeling compelled to take a closer look. How do these feathery wonders make their home with only their beak? Interestingly, birds can be identified by examining their nest-making handiwork.

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  1. Obtain a field guide to birds in the region in which you live. This will be helpful in determining what type of bird built the nest being examined, enabling you to eliminate birds that are not native to your area.

  2. Determine the height of the nest. This can be performed visually, no measurements are necessary. While the majority of birds build above ground, some build on the ground. Categories for the nest height are: above ground, high above ground, on the ground. Write down the height of the nest in a journal.

  3. Observe what type of platform was used to construct the nest: a bush or shrub, tree, eave of the house, building or in the grass. Record the results for further study.

  4. Record the position of the nest in regard to the platform. For instance, if the nest is located in a tree, is the position of the nest near the trunk, on the outer limbs, embedded in a secure cluster of limbs, or seemingly balanced on a few sprigs?

  5. Using a measuring tape, measure across the nest, top to bottom, and the depth of the inside of the nest. Record your findings in the journal. This will give you a good indication of the size of the bird. Nests that are about 4 inches across, 4 inches tall, and 2 inches in depth are typical for the American Robin.

  6. Observe the shape of the nest. Some species build nests shaped in ovals, tunnels, round and cup shaped. Cup-shaped nests are typical of songbirds. Write down the shape as your information may be referenced later when examining other nests.

  7. Study visually the materials that make up the nest and note that the nest is composed of two sections--the primary nest and an inside lining. Birds of different species will use different types of materials to build their home. Some of these include: twigs, grass, mud, sticks or paper. Linings used are commonly feathers, fur, hair, cotton or leaves.

  8. Note whether eggs are present and their size, colour, markings and shape. Be careful not to touch or disturb the eggs during observation.

  9. Review notes and refer to the field guide for birds to determine what type of bird built the nest in question.

  10. Watch for the bird to come home if the nest is an active one. This will tell exactly what type of bird the nest belongs to.

  11. Tip

    During observation, it is important not to handle the nest. The nest is part of nature and should not be moved, removed or destroyed.


    When examining birds nests, proceed with caution as the nest may be occupied.

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Things You'll Need

  • Field Guide to Birds (specific to your region)
  • Notebook or journal
  • Pencil/pen
  • Measuring tape

About the Author

Patricia Hill is a freelance writer who contributes to several websites and organizations, including various private sectors. She also contributes to the online magazine, Orato.com. Empowered by a need to reveal that unhealthy food and diet is a source of health-related issues, Hill is currently working on a cookbook and website for individuals with Crohn's disease.

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