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

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. 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.

What types of birds mate for life?

ruby throated hummingbird nestCourtesy Stephanie Cullinan
Ruby-throated hummingbird nest

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

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.

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

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

Next, learn about 9 different types of bird nests and how to identify bird eggs by color and size.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.