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Nest Building

Fish & Wildlife

Fri Jun 14 11:00:00 MDT 2013

By Bruce Auchly, FWP Region 4 Information Officer

This morning I noticed a robin building its nest outside my office window, about 10 feet from my desk.

I know, I know, big deal. So what. Who cares?

I mean we've got battles over whether to list the wolverine as endangered, whether wolves are going to eat us out of house and home then chase us down the road, and everyone who really wants to have an argument about global warming and the melting polar ice cap raise your hand. I thought so.

Still, it's pretty neat to watch a bird build its house and prepare to raise young to fly away, even though the odds are stacked against it.

A week ago, the nest was not there. Now, it's nearly complete. Despite a stiff wind this morning to be followed by a predicted rainstorm, the robin was hopping inside, squatting, throwing her weight around to form the mud-laden cup.

It's that time of year when lots of young creatures are hopping, skipping and swimming across the landscape. Six months from now, not so many.

When it comes to fish and wildlife many are born and many die.

If nothing drives away the robin from that nest outside my window, in just a few weeks she will hatch out young birds.

Right now the mama robin faces the challenges of nest building, which are many. Once the eggs hatch the young have their own obstacles.

Of those birds hatched in nests on or above ground, like meadowlarks and robins, about half survive to learn to fly, which happens when the bird is about two weeks old. Think of that: if my new best friend, mother robin lays four eggs, two will survive the approximately 28 days from egg to hatching to nestling to flying.

Even after surviving the nest and learning to fly, most small birds, such as chickadees and goldfinches, don't live more than six months to maybe two years. Medium sized birds, like robins, can live four to 10 years or more.

The robin's cup nest is the most common type and the one we most associate with birds. It's lashed with strong plant fibers; a coarse but sturdy mud-lined nest usually in a tree crotch or fork of a branch. The one outside my window is in a small aspen tree starting to leaf out.

Robins will often return to the same yard or garden each year, sometimes using the same nest as in a previous year. Then again, because they will lay two and sometimes three sets of eggs each year, robins will often build a new nest for each set of eggs.

Birds are genetically hard wired to build nests. Humans are not born with the ability to build a house, garage or even a chicken coop. We have to be taught, make a few mistakes, smash a few thumbs with hammers.

Yet nest building is not a cinch. Nests fail. Predators find them. Storms happen, like the one brewing.

Wait. I just looked out the window and the nest is on the ground, apparently blown out by the wind. No matter. I'm guessing mother robin will be building a new one somewhere else by tomorrow morning.