Do Birds Reuse Other Birds Nests?

Most birds do not reuse other birds’ nests. This is for safety, health, and mating purposes. Some predatory birds or birds with complex nest structures reuse their own nests. However, a few birds (such as owls and white-rumped swifts) will reuse the nest of other birds.

When the leaves have fallen off the trees in late autumn, it is easy to spot the hard work of native birds resting on the branches.

These nests are built in the spring when birds prepare for their young. Nests come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made from various materials so that each one is as unique as the bird species that made it.

When you look up at these barren nests, do you ever wonder whether nests are left to waste away or whether they are reused?

Why Most Birds DO NOT Reuse Other Birds Nests

Nests Aren’t Durable

Smaller birds gather grasses, twigs, moss, shiny items, hair, and string to use in their nests, but often these items don’t stand up to the weather. They can easily be blown away in a strong wind, especially once the protective layer of leaves has fallen from a tree.

Birds only build nests to house their offspring during the brooding season (brooding is the term used for when birds sit on the nest to incubate their eggs).

The brooding and fledgling season (when birds are young and becoming mobile) lasts perhaps a month for most songbirds.

These birds also only mate and brood one set of eggs per season. Some birds also migrate, meaning they leave one area for a warmer one once temperatures drop. This means that having a long-term nesting site is not always necessary.

Parasite Prevention

Besides the lack of durability and longevity, most birds avoid reusing an old nest to prevent the spread of parasites. An abandoned nest can still harbor parasites from the previous owners that would have a head start on the new inhabitants. Parasites infect baby birds quickly and severely. It is beneficial for birds to start over the next season with a new nest.

Nesting as Bonding

Nesting plays an important role in the mating process of many birds. Some male birds use nesting to show the female their worthiness. They will even add decorative items such as shiny pebbles and flowers to make the nest more appealing to the female.

Males also use building a nest as a way of claiming territory. They pick the best nesting spots, so their offspring will be safer from predators and more likely to survive.

Since building nests is important to the entire breeding process, it makes sense that birds would restart their nests each year along with the courtship.

Even though most songbirds don’t reuse nests, they do use materials from old nests, but some birds go even further and reuse their entire nest, sometimes for generations.

Birds That Reuse Their OWN Nests

Large, predatory birds must lug materials to the tops of tall trees and mountains to build their nests. These nests are bulky, sturdy, and take a long time to fashion. Hawks and eagles are examples of birds who reuse their own nests each season.

Hawks

Hawk nests can reach a height of 3 feet, and the baby birds of hawks can live in the nest for as long as 6 months. Because of these considerations, combined with the fact that hawks mate in the same place every year, hawks build nests that are strong and long-lasting.

Eagles

Eagles practice what is called nest site fidelity, which is when a bird pair comes back to the same nest year after year.

Eagles’ nests are massive, about 4-5 feet around, so these nests are made to last generations. However, to protect their young, eagles sometimes have alternative nest locations where they will nest for a season and then return to their old nesting site the next season when dangers have passed.

Predatory birds are not the only ones who reuse their own nests.

Birds With Multiple Broods in a Season

Bluejays and other jays will sometimes have multiple broods in a season. These birds will reuse their nests for convenience.

Other smaller birds, such as swallows, will also rebuild their nests in the same location season after season, either repairing the older nest or building another on top of the previous nest.

Reusing old nests can be beneficial, but what about reusing old nests that belong to another bird?

Birds That Reuse Other Birds Nests

Dusky-Eagle Owls

Some birds use the nests of other birds instead of building their own. For example, Dusky-Eagle Owls take over stork nests instead of building their own. They use the stork nests in the part of the year when storks are no longer breeding, forming a commensalistic relationship (one benefits and the other is neither harmed nor benefitted) between these two bird species.

White-Rumped Swifts

White-rumped Swifts reuse swallow nests. Both birds prefer cave or hole-like structures for nest building, so they compete for those spots.

In China, swifts arrive in the breeding locations before swallows, so they take over the old nests of the swallows. This results in fighting between the two species of birds and competition for whose offspring will survive.

Although it is uncommon, some species of birds are brood parasites (birds that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and wash their hands of the brooding process altogether).

Cuckoos are examples. Their offspring compete heavily in the nest for resources, sometimes resulting in the starvation of the babies.

Birds’ nesting habits vary widely, but if you look up into the trees and see an old nest, you’ll know that these beautiful constructions are part of a complex breeding process involving competition, convenience, health, and attraction. The outcomes of these nests are as different as the species that build them.

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