Do Birds Reuse Their Nests?
We asked birding experts if birds like robins reuse nests year after year and for multiple broods. Learn about the nesting habits of different bird species.
“Do birds reuse their nests? asks 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
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. 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 Winnicki-Smith, 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.
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.
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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.
Mourning dove nests are often flimsy and often fall apart, because the birds build them so quickly.
Psst—here’s what to do if you find a nest, eggs or baby bird.
Birds That Do Reuse Nests
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.