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Who Could Be Nesting in Your Garden?

As We enter spring, male birds are singing loudly to attract female mates. And in turn, the females are hustling about gathering nesting material and building complex nests in which to lay their eggs. These nests vary in size, complexity and elaborateness

As March delivers spring to Sonoma County, we are anxious to clean up our gardens from the ravages of winter.

Trees are leafing and flowers are blossoming everywhere. Muddy patches are filling in with lush green grass or ground cover. We start wondering where to place our petunias or snapdragons. The days are longer and the sun is high. We peel off winter layers and soak in the warmth in shirtsleeves.

Notice that our gardens are suddenly filled with bird sounds. We hear twitters and cheeps and melodic tunes. The male birds are singing loudly to attract female mates. And in turn, the females are hustling about gathering nesting material and building complex nests in which to lay their eggs.

These nests vary in size, complexity and elaborateness. We, as mere humans, couldn’t possibly recreate these shelters even with our dexterous hands with opposable thumbs. We have to wonder how these birds can build these magnificent nests with just simple beaks and tiny toothpick-like legs

As we spend time in our garden in spring we can’t help but wonder what kinds of birds are nesting in our humble suburban gardens. And what do they need in order to nest in our gardens?

Ultimately, the birds need a structure or substrate on which to build their nests. Some birds such as Black Phoebes and House Finches are adept at placing their nests on buildings. Robins and Mockingbirds just need a tree limb or a fork in a tree. Chickadees and Bluebirds need a hole either in a tree or in a man-made nest box.

In addition to a nesting substrate, birds need building materials.

If you decide to put out nesting material, always use natural, biodegradable materials. Birds will use yarn or wires, but it is not healthy for them or the environment.
If you decide to put out nesting material, always use natural, biodegradable materials. Birds will use yarn or wires, but it is not healthy for them or the environment.

If your garden is too “clean,” it could be difficult for birds to find sticks, twigs, grasses, or even mud and water. You might want to leave a little pile of varying-sized sticks and let the grass grow a few inches and leave some clippings around for the birds to find.

You can try hanging items out for birds to use, such as human hair, pet hair, hay or straw. If you decide to put out nesting material, always use natural, biodegradable materials. Birds will use yarn or wires, but it is not healthy for them or the environment.

Birds will also seek out fresh water sources in the spring. They will use the water to mix with saliva to make a sort of “glue” for nest-construction. Or, they will use fresh water to make mud to add structural integrity to their nests. Robins are especially fond of using mud as an outer shell for their nests. Phoebes and Swallows will make thousands of pea-sized mud balls and bond these together to construct their nests.

Bushtits make a long, hanging nest (about 18 inches long). Both the male and female will gather spider webs for nest construction. As they are building the nest, they will often sit on the bottom of the nest to stretch it out. They adorn the outside of the nest with lichens and mosses. They line the inside of the nest with feathers, fur, or downy plant material.

They leave a hole near the top of the nest for an entrance. It is entertaining to watch a bushtit nest (from a respectable distance) when there are young in the nest. As the adults enter the nest to feed the young, the nest will often wriggle and vibrate with the nestlings movements as they greedily grab insects from their parents.

A suburban garden can be a haven for nesting birds.

And the nesting birds in turn delight us with their musical songs and intriguing behavior. If you are wondering what kinds of birds are likely to nest in your suburban garden, check the reference table I’ve made below:

Common Nesting Birds in Suburban Sonoma County

Bird — Type of nest — Garden needs

American Robin — woven cup nest — dense shrubs or trees

Anna’s Hummingbird — small cup nest — medium-siced shrub

Black Phoebe — mud nest — usually man-made structures

Bullock’s Oriole — woven hanging nest — large trees - usually Oaks

Bushtit — woven hanging nest — shrubs or small trees

California Scrub-Jay — large woven nest — large shrubs or trees

California Towhee — woven cup nest — dense shrubs or trees

Chestnut-backed Chickadee — hollows tree with small holes, or nest box

Downy Woodpecker — hollows tree with small holes, or nest box

Hooded Oriole — attached woven nest — Palm Trees

House Finch — woven cup nest — man-made structures or trees

Lesser Goldfinch — small woven cup nest — small trees

Northern Mockingbird — woven cup nest — dense shrubs or trees

Oak Titmouse — hollows tree with small holes, or nest box

Pacific-slope Flycatcher — “sloppy” woven nest — man-made or bark crevices

Red-shouldered Hawk — large stick nest — tall tree

Western Bluebird — hollows 'tree with small holes, or nest box

White-breasted Nuthatch — hollows tree with small holes, or nest box

Lisa Hug is a birder and naturalist living in Sonoma County, California. She is a freelance naturalist and contract biologist who served as president of Redwood Regional Ornithological Society and teaches birding classes as well as writes about birds. FIND her archived articles on our website www.SonomaCountyGazette.com

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