When birds decide to mate and raise a family, one of their first tasks is to provide a nest where they will care for the eggs and the young birds until the birds are ready to leave the nest. Nests come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. They can be situated in unique locations.
Some nests are merely dents in the ground called scrapes. The birds create a lower area to keep eggs from rolling around. Sometimes they add a few stones or other materials. Least Terns and Piping Plovers that nest on sand bars have scrapes for nests.
Not all birds can make do with a scrape nest for a home. Songbirds typically have a cup-type nest. This is a nest with a deep depression. Birds nesting in wetlands often have a saucer-type nest.
Mourning Doves have a platform nest. Eagles build platform nests called aeries and use the same one year after year.
Some birds nest in a cavity, like woodpeckers. Others prefer a crevice. Some birds have spherical nests. Some birds – such as Burrowing Owls and Kingfishers – nest in burrows. An oriole's nest type is a pendant – it's woven and hangs from a tree limb.
Birds can have their nests on or near the ground or located in plants (some in the grass, some in the trees) or even on a cliff.
Birds reproduce to ensure the survival of their species, so protecting the eggs and the nestlings is essential. But bird eggs and chicks are often preyed upon. Predators include snakes, squirrels, and other birds (such as Blue Jays). Even mice and deer have been found to eat eggs and nestlings (see USGS web page http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/news/press/ontape.htm for more information). In general, cup nests near the ground are easiest for predators to find.
As if keeping the predators away from the nest wasn't enough for bird parents to worry about, some are subject to brood parasitism – other birds sneaking their young into the nest for fulltime daycare. Cowbirds (which historically followed the bison on the plains) will lay its eggs in another bird's nest. The other parent birds will raise the cowbird chicks. This parasitism by cowbirds is a problem for grassland birds in Nebraska.
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