Do Birds Reuse Nests or Live in Nests Year-Round?

Updated: May 09, 2024

Find out if birds like hummingbirds and robins reuse nests year after year and for multiple broods. Learn about the nesting habits of different birds.

“Do birds reuse their nests? asks Birds & Blooms reader Liza Peniston of Augusta, Kansas. The short answer is that it depends on the species. Some large birds may use the same nest for years, but most, like robins, opt for new sites every time. There are endless variations in bird behavior.

Bird That Do Not Reuse Nests

do robins reuse nests?Courtesy Adam Fine
Robins usually do not reuse their nests

As a very general rule, smaller birds usually make their nests for a single use, especially those that build nests in the open. Most multi-brooded birds do not reuse nests because the materials are not durable enough to last through more than one brood. For instance, mourning dove nests are often flimsy and often fall apart, because the birds build them so quickly.

A lot of factors go into whether individual birds will lay eggs more than once per year. “Many species can renest if attempts fail early in the breeding season, and some regularly produce multiple broods annually,” says Sarah K. Winnicki, a Ph.D. candidate in avian evolutionary ecology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For example, American robins may have up to three broods in one season and typically build a new nest for each brood.

Mourning Dove (zenaida Macroura) Incubating Its EggsJames Randklev/Getty Images
Mourning dove nest

Birds most often pick a different location for later nesting sites, even after successful attempts. One grasshopper sparrow monitored by Sarah moved over 3 miles between nests. For the most part, songbirds abandon their nests after the breeding season. A few, especially cavity nesters, might return to roosting sites, but they don’t generally use the same hollows.

What types of birds mate for life?

Do Hummingbirds Reuse Their Nests?

ruby throated hummingbird nestCourtesy Stephanie Cullinan
Ruby-throated hummingbird with nestlings

Hummingbird nests are not also durable enough for repeated use. Typically the female hummingbird will build a new nest for each brood, even within the same year. She may start construction before she finishes feeding the full-grown young from a previous one. In rare cases, a location is so good that females will build right on top of the remains of the old nest.

Psst—here’s what to do if you find a nest, eggs or baby bird.

Birds That Do Reuse Nests

barn swallow nestCourtesy Judy Mayhew
Barn swallow nest

But birds that build nests in enclosed spaces, such as bluebirds or house wrens that use tree cavities or birdhouses, are somewhat more likely to use those spots for a second brood. Barn swallows may reuse an old nest, cleaning out some of the debris from the first brood and adding a new layer of mud to the rim. Other songbirds occasionally reuse a nest if it’s in good shape.

Large birds like eagles or herons may reuse the same nest, but these species only raise one brood per year.

Do Birds Live in Nests Year-Round?

great blue heron nest, do birds reuse nestsCourtesy Francis Hoefer
Great blue heron nest

“How long do birds live in their nests?” asks reader Linda Johnson of Del Rio, Texas.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “In general, birds don’t live in their nests the way people live in their houses. For most birds, the nest is like a cradle: a place to incubate their eggs and feed their hatchlings until those baby birds fly away. Then the nest is usually abandoned and never used again, and the parents build a new nest for their next attempt.

Some large birds such may use the same nest year after year, and some hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers and chickadees may sleep in those holes at night year-round. But in most cases, the nest is simply a temporary child-care structure.”

Next, learn about different types of bird nests and how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

About the Experts

  • Sarah K. Winnicki is is an avian biologist and PhD candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Sarah’s research focuses on growth rates of songbirds like American robins, and their past research has focused on environmental impacts on growth rates of songbirds in the grasslands.
  • Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official birding experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they speak and lead birding trips all over the world.

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