We’re Not The Only Ones Nesting

When we moved in we found three birds nests on the exterior of our house, one on our shed/detached garage, and one down by the garden. There was this cardinal’s nest under our patio next to the garage:


Every time we walked anywhere near the area she would fly through the lattice surrounding the underside of our porch yelling at us as she went. She seemed very annoyed when we moved in coming in and out of the house with boxes. This shot was very hard to get.

Then there was the robin’s nest on our fabric awning over the dining room window. I am so excited that we have so many robins on our property. I’ve liked them ever since I was a young girl since we share the same name. : )


In this picture you can really see the female robin’s white chin and streaks around her head. That’s how you can easily tell the difference from a male and a female robin. Male robins only have a white ring around their eyes. Additionally, females have slightly lighter breasts and heads.

She was building her nest when we first moved in and I would sit below the window and watch her fly back and forth with twigs and mud while the father watched from a nearby tree (or I’m assuming he was the father). This explained the large mug splatters all over our window from mouthfuls of mud that didn’t quite make it to the nest. I had fun watching her rapidly fly back and forth. It looked like she was going to fly right into you at a fast speed but she would pull up at the last second and land on the awning. I tried to get some pictures but of course none of them turned out.



Then there was the mystery nest on the metal awnings over the living room windows. The awnings roll out from large crank shafts in the living room. The first day we moved in we were rolling them out because there were lots of bugs in them. Well the one I happened to be rolling out had a birds nest on top of it that we didn’t know was there. The nest fell two stories to the patio below and broke the eggs inside it! I felt awful! That in addition to all the other problems we had to deal with made our first couple days really stink. The robin was at least smart enough to build her nest on the awnings that can only be extended from the outside.


Then there was the nest down by the garden. It was build between two tall plants. Do you know what kind of bird makes a nest like this? We were never able to see the mother.


Finally, there was the nest built on the motion detector lights on our shed/detached garage. I think this is the an Eastern phoebe. Does anyone know for sure?


I used to park my car right below her nest and she wasn’t scared off by my car or me opening the car door but as soon as I stepped out of the car she would fly off.


I was hoping to get more pictures of the baby birds but they seemed to have hatched and left the nest really fast. The robin’s nest was two stories off the ground and I was going to try to borrow someones ladder to get a picture but by the time I got around to that they had already hatched and left the nest.


At least I was able to get a couple shots of the Eastern phoebe’s nest. In the matter of a couple days the birds went from this:


To this:


This shot was from the day before they left the nest. As I was putting this together I realized that these baby birds don’t look anything like the mother! Look at the difference in their profiles and they are much larger than the mother barely able to fit in the nest. I remember thinking that was strange at the time but I didn’t think much of it.


After doing a little research I found out they were actually cowbird babies. Cowbirds are brood parasites that lay their eggs in other birds nests hoping that that bird will raise them as their own. The cowbird mothers remove at least one egg of host’s by piercing the egg with it’s beak and either knocking it out of the nest or flying off with the egg. We didn’t see any egg shells below the nest so the mother must have flown off with it. I’ve also found that cowbirds typically only lay one egg in a nest so because we have two baby cowbirds they were probably from two different mothers. The cowbird babies hatch earlier and grow faster and larger than the host’s babies so they have a better chance of surviving. Cowbird hatchlings also tend to get fed more because they have a bright pink mouth which indicates they need to be feed more. In the picture above you can clearly see this. I remember watching the “mother” phoebe flying around frantically trying to feed them from our study window too. Check out this really interesting website about cowbirds.

Brown-headed cowbirds are the only parasitic birds that live in Wisconsin and many popular birds in our area actually reject their eggs. Robins can recognize the difference in the eggs and will knock the cowbird egg out of their nest. (I always knew robins were smart!) Cardinals will either knock the egg out of the nest or reject the nest altogether.

The fact that there are such things as parasitic birds really irks me. We were planning on removing the nest and now I’m afraid we might find dead phoebe babies in it. Ugh, this was supposed to be a happy post.

Has anyone had to deal with parasitic birds before? What would you have done if you had found out they were in nearby nests? Would you have removed the eggs/killed the hatchlings or just let nature run it’s course? I’m curious to see what you guys have to say.




4 Responses to “We’re Not The Only Ones Nesting”

  1. 1 denise June 12, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Great pictures! We have a little birdhouse that my grandfather made and it always gets inhabited by sparrows. It’s fun to watch all the activity. Re: cowbirds, I knew about them and I just hate that they do that to the other poor birds. I think I would like to remove the eggs if I knew it was happening (as long as it was in its early stages), but I suppose you run the risk of the bird abandoning the nest altogether if you mess with it. So I guess I would just leave it alone. I would hope that cowbirds have some redeeming qualities, but I don’t know what they’d be!

  2. 2 tashamort June 12, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    This cowbird thing is crazy! What jerks. I don’t know what I’d do, though.

    I vaguely remember Swallows building nests between two branches, but I’m not certain.

    These are some really impressive shots. I know your house is practically in the middle of nowhere, but seeing all this wildlife ON your house is a little unbelievable to a city girl like me!

  3. 3 Robin June 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Denise – Yeah, I don’t honestly know if I could kill them and I wouldn’t want the mother to abandon the nest. Though some birds are more picky about that than others. I thought this would be an interesting “controversial” topic.

    Trashy – I know it’s like the Discovery Channel isn’t it! It reminds me of the shows I’ve watched about frigate birds (aka pirate birds). They dive bomb and harass other birds to get them to drop their food and nest making material. By food I mean either fish that they are holding in their beaks or forcing them to regurgitate the food they were bringing back for their young! And yes I openly admit that I’m addicted to nature shows.

    LOL you city girls are crazy! I don’t live in the middle of nowhere! We’re only 5 minutes from town and 25 minutes to my work on Madison’s west side. You are officially invited over. You’ll probably think it’s like a jungle over here with all the birds, frogs, and plant life.

    I tried googling swallows nest and apparently they are a dessert delicacy in China. LOL, I don’t think they’d like this nest since it’s made of twigs! Swallows nests are made of clay and saliva. Yum! I actually saw people collecting their nests in these huge caves on the Planet Earth series. It was crazy the ropes and makeshift ladders they were using to get up hundreds of feet to collect the nests! Yes, I know I’m a nature show freak.

  4. 4 tashamort June 13, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Darn, it would’ve been awesome if I were right. I saw packages of birds nests in Thailand. I think a package of 12 went for about $400 US!!

    And I hope you know I only mean the best when I say “middle of nowhere.” I’m a girl of extremes. But for real, you kind of have the best of both worlds- surrounded by nature, but close enough to civilization! 😉

    I love nature shows, too. The problem is that they suck me in and before you know it, I’ve been on the couch ALL DAY. I love Shark Week. They did a “Shark Sunday” not too long ago. That was awesome!

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This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
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