Get out of my tree, get into my nest

Above, a red tailed hawk lords over its nest. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

I’m sure I’ve written this before, but one aspect I truly love about nature is that it is always changing.

Over the past few years, we’ve had robins consistently nesting on one side of the house or another. In bird houses, we’ve had sparrows, starlings, and even a pair of screech owls.

This year, to my surprise, our first pair of blue jays decided to call our backyard home for the season.

While I’m no stranger to blue jays, I don’t recall ever watching their nesting behaviour, so this was a special treat for me. I watched in amazement as, for hours, they flew back and forth between our birch trees, breaking off dozens, if not hundreds, of little branches and throwing them to the ground. They would then inspect their work and choose sticks that must have met a special criteria that only they understood. Once they had the right stick they would fly to one of my old flower pots, pick out old leafy-looking material, and then fly to their nest to continue their construction efforts. After two hours I was ready for a break, though the pair of Jays continued their efforts.

A blue jay builds a nest in The Bluffs. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Nests have fascinated me for years, and I love spotting them in my trees or in those out in the wild.

People have asked me if there is anything you should do if you find a nest on your property. The answer is mostly common sense: you can observe the nest from a distance but it is extremely important that you, your children, or your pets do not to disturb the nest. In the best case scenario, you will get the pleasure of watching chicks hatch, grow, and fledge because of the welcoming environment you’ve provided. In a worst case interference scenario, you can actually force the parents to leave their nest and abandon their eggs or chicks to perish.

Among some special nests to look for: the oriole makes stunning woven nests that hang from trees like baskets. This past Wednesday, my cousin and I watched a male bring in bits of reeds and place them in the bag-shaped nest to help the female finish building it. This nest was in a willow tree and would blow gently to and fro in the wind, just like it was in a lullaby for baby orioles.

An oriale with its stunning woven basket nest. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Red-tailed hawks bring huge branches to a tree to start their nests. Just like the blue jays, they break specific sized branches to fit the nest, which the female orders together like she was building a log cabin. Once the nest is built the female then tears bark off a tree to put on the bottom of the nest. Why do they do this? According to an old friend, they line the nest with bark because it acts as a natural source of insect repellent.

So, the next time you see a bird, whether big or small, sitting on a nest, think about the innate skill these master builders possess.

Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer. Find her online at

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