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All about the spring nesting cycle

All about the spring nesting cycle

Arguably the most exciting time for backyard birding begins in early spring, when migratory birds return from their winter recess and nesting season begins. What is nesting season? It’s the time of year when birds find a mate, build a nest, lay eggs, and raise their young. You, too, can experience the joys of nesting season in your own backyard by learning all about the spring nesting cycle!

bluebird hatchlings

Bluebird hatchlings in Bluebird Box House (Model# WWCH3).

When is bird nesting season?

Bird nesting season usually occurs from mid-March to mid-June and may fluctuate between geographic regions. Beginning in the spring, food sources are typically becoming more plentiful with the rise in temperature and increase in rainwater.

How do birds find a mate?

The first stage in the nesting cycle is courtship, or creating a pair bond between a male and female bird. You might be surprised to find that many of the ways birds attract a mate are similar in humans. Wild birds show off their talents by singing intricate songs and dancing with daring moves to prove their intelligence and maturity. Some choose to showcase their nurturing abilities, like nest-building and feeding, to demonstrate their ability to provide suitable shelter and foraging for their future young. Or simpler yet, they flaunt their finest features in displays that show off their bright plumage, health, and strength. This courtship generally lasts 1-2 weeks as the birds search for the perfect mate to nest with.

Where do birds make nests?

Depending on their species, the most common backyard birds will choose a variety of suitable nesting sites from tall grasses to birdhouses. Often building their nests at a fork in the branches of tall trees are hummingbirds, cardinals, and jays. Some birds, like juncos, make their nests in tall grasses, at the base of a tree or in exposed roots. Cardinals like to nest in dense shrubs or bushes, while finches will nest in a range of the previously mentioned locations. Woodpeckers prefer to nest in the cavities of live or dead trees but will not use nest boxes.

Bluebirds, tree swallows, titmice, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches all prefer to nest in a cavity, whether it be a tree cavity or a birdhouse. If you’d like to try attracting a pair of nesting birds to your backyard, put up a Bluebird house or wren house ahead of the springtime and watch to see if your house becomes host to a growing family! Not sure where to put one? Check out our mounting and care instructions for Bluebird houses and wren houses.

bluebirds using bluebird house

A pair of Bluebirds using Bluebird Box House (Model# CWH3).

Bluebird Houses:


Wren Houses:


How long does it take for a bird to build a nest?

A bird’s nest can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to complete. There are many factors that can affect how long it takes for a bird to build a full nest. Material availability or quality, weather, and the bird’s experience level can all influence the number of days needed to construct a suitable nest.

Do birds reuse nests?

In most cases, birds do not reuse their old nests. Some birds, like woodpeckers and hummingbirds, may build on top of their old nests out of convenience or if it’s in their preferred location, but typically birds will move on to build a new nest in a new location as part of the nesting process.

If you have a birdhouse, it’s recommended that you clean it out after every brood has fledged. At minimum, once a year prior to nesting season. You can safely clean your birdhouse to reduce potential parasite problems and increase occupancy throughout the year.

How many eggs do birds lay in a season?

A clutch of eggs is the total number of eggs laid in one nesting attempt. A female bird doesn’t lay the same number of eggs in every clutch. The total number of eggs per clutch can vary widely depending on the species, or even the brood. Below is a list of the most common backyard birds, their potential number of broods, the size of each clutch, and a description of the egg to help you identify the nest.

Bird Species

Number of Broods

Typical Clutch Size

Egg Description

Nest Description

Northern Cardinal

1-2 broods

2-5 eggs

Grayish white, buffy white, or greenish white speckled with pale gray to brown.

Open cup made of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass or hair.

Blue Jay

1 brood

2-7 eggs

Bluish or light brown with brownish spots.

Bulky open cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, bark strips, moss, sometimes held together with mud. Lined with rootlets and other fine materials, often decorated with paper, rags, string, or other debris.

Black-capped Chickadee

1 brood

1-13 eggs

White with fine reddish-brown dots or spots.

Foundation of moss or other matter, lining of softer material such as animal hair.

American Goldfinch

1-2 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale bluish white, sometimes with small faint brown spots around large end.

Solid, compact cup of plant fibers, spiderwebs, plant down (especially from thistles); nest is so well-made that it may even hold water.

House Finch

1-6 broods

2-6 eggs

Pale blue to white, speckled with fine black and pale purple.

Open cup of grass, weeds, fine twigs, leaves, rootlets, sometimes with feathers, string, or other debris added.

Eastern Bluebird

1-3 broods

2-7 eggs

Pale blue or, rarely, white.

Loosely constructed cup of weeds, twigs, and dry grass, lined with finer grass, sometimes with animal hair or feathers.

Tree Swallow

1-2 broods

4-7 eggs

Pale pink, turning to pure white within 4 days.

Cup of grass, weeds, rootlets, moss, pine needles, other plant materials. Usually lined with many feathers (from other kinds of birds), mostly added after first eggs are laid.

White-breasted Nuthatch

1 brood

5-9 eggs

Creamy white to pinkish-white, speckled with reddish brown, gray, or purple.

Simple cup of bark fibers, grasses, twigs, hair. Sometimes adds mud to rim of nest entrance.

House Wren

1-2 broods

3-10 eggs

White, pink-white, or grayish, speckled or blotched with reddish brown.

Foundation of twigs, topped with softer cup of plant fibers, grass, weeds, animal hair, feathers.

American Robin

1-3 broods

3-5 eggs

Sky blue or blue-green and unmarked.

Cup of grasses, twigs, debris, worked into solid foundation of mud, lined with fine grasses and plant fibers.

Tufted Titmouse

1 brood

3-9 eggs

White to creamy white, spotted with chestnut-red, brown, purple, or lilac.

Foundation of grass, moss, leaves, bark strips, lined with soft materials, especially animal hair.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

1-2 broods

1-3 eggs

Tiny, white, weighing about half a gram.

Compact cup of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, lined with plant down. The outside is camouflaged with lichens and dead leaves.

Downy Woodpecker

1 brood

3-8 eggs

Completely white.

Cavity entrance is often surrounded by fungus or lichen, helping to camouflage site.


tree swallow nest

A clutch of five Tree Swallow eggs inside the Bluebird Box House w/Viewing Window (Model# CWH4).

How long does it take for a baby bird to mature? How does a baby bird learn to fly?

From the birth of the hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) until the time they are a fledgling learning to fly varies between bird species but is generally between 10 days and 3 weeks. For fledglings, learning to fly takes a little bit of practice and lot of instinct. Fledglings usually begin attempting to fly when they are around 2 weeks old, after a period of stumbling and falling around the nest. Practicing flight usually involves flying or falling from the nest and finding their way back to it. After a few attempts, they’ll learn how to spread their wings and begin flapping to avoid falling to the ground.

What do you do if you find a baby bird on the ground?

If you find a baby bird on the ground, first identify whether the bird is a hatchling (a newly hatched bird that can’t walk or fly with few or no feathers and closed eyes) or a fledgling (mostly covered in feathers of a dull color with stubby wings and tail). A fledgling who is learning how to fly can make its way back to the nest without any help. If the bird is a hatchling, don’t be afraid to place the bird back in the nest if you can locate it. Birds don’t have a strong sense of smell and they will not abandon their young if you touch them.

If the bird is injured, do not touch it. Contact your city or county extension office to reach your local wildlife management department. Or, if you have a local park district, there may be a rehabilitation center who will accept injured birds or wildlife.


Which birds are you hoping will nest in your backyard this season? Share your nesting season stories with us!

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Indoor activities for kids: birding edition!

Indoor activities for kids: birding edition!

When the weather stops you from getting outside to play, find ways to celebrate nature inside with these indoor birding activities! With a combination of both hands-on and online activities for all ages, go on an indoor birding journey until you can get back outside with the birds again.
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Late summer birding

Late summer birding

Now that the buzz of spring migration has quieted, on come the high temperatures and humidity of hot sunny days. You might notice less bird activity at your feeders and a quieter tone in the trees. But just because it’s summer doesn’t mean birding season is over! As they lay low in anticipation for fall migration, there is still a lot taking place behind the scenes with your feathered friends that you may not even notice or know about. We have the answers to a few of the most common late summer birding questions to help you understand what’s happening with your backyard birds during the summer!

When do birds molt their feathers?

Once the summertime arrives, you might notice that the birds can look a little worse for wear with dull and drab colors. After an active spring of using their brightest and flashiest feathers to attract a mate and expending lots of energy to raise their young, a bird’s feathers can become worn out. Once nesting season is over, birds can then afford to lie low as they begin the molting process of replacing their entire plumage. Molting can leave birds with partially grown flight feathers, making them more vulnerable to predators. They may not seem as present around your backyard but rest assured that they are there saving energy and preparing for the season ahead.

blue jay feeding from nature's way weathered hopper feeder

Blue Jay visiting Galvanized Weathered Hopper Feeder (Model# WWGF2-DECO)

Why do birds stop singing in the summer?

Much of the singsong background music birds make while attracting a mate or defending their territory in the spring is no longer necessary once nesting season is over. By July, most backyard birds have attracted their mate and their spring hatchlings have fledged, leaving a quieter sound behind. Some songbirds will continue singing in order to teach their young how to communicate, but as the summer passes, your birding sessions will likely have the volume turned down.

Do birds nest in the summer?

Birders commonly refer to “nesting season” as the time between late March and late June, or springtime. It’s true that most birds do take advantage of the early spring months to mate, nest and raise their young. But don’t forget that some bird species have multiple broods in one season – even as many as six! For these birds, nesting season can extend well into the late summer months.

eastern bluebirds making a nest in nature's way bluebird house

Eastern Bluebirds making their nest in the Bluebird Box House (Model# CWH3)

How do birds stay cool in the heat?

As the summer temperatures continue to rise, many birders may wonder how birds can manage to stay cool in the heat. Since birds don’t have sweat glands, they rely on other physical behaviors to regulate their body temperature, like panting, or gular fluttering (a combination of panting and vibration of the throat which results in evaporation and cooling). Keeping in the shade, bathing and staying less active also help to lower a bird’s body temperature.


Don’t forget to check out our tips for birding in hot weather to make the most out of your summer birdwatching experience!

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How does a hummingbird eat?

How does a hummingbird eat?

Spotting a hummingbird in your backyard can be a fleeting but rewarding experience. That’s because hummingbirds do everything in such a hurry that they can be difficult to sight!

Because of their hurried behavior, hummingbirds have been tricky to research and study at length, leading to many misconceptions about how they drink. Did you know that scientists used to believe that hummingbirds used their beaks as a straw? Find out how exactly a hummingbird eats, what their beaks are used for and how much nectar they can consume.

Does a hummingbird have a tongue?

A hummingbird has a tongue that can stretch twice as long as its beak. Their tongues are forked and are lined with lamellae, which are tiny, hair-like barbs that extend outwards as they open their beaks and stick out their tongues. When they retract their long tongue back into their beak, it coils up inside their head, wrapping around their skull. The average hummingbird’s beak can range from 15mm-21mm (.59in-.82in) in length, meaning its tongue can stretch up to 1.6 inches long! [Image credit: Bob Lewis,]

hummingbird tongue

How does a hummingbird drink?

As a hummingbird extends its tongue into a flower, dish or nectar feeder port to drink, the lamellae spread from the forks in their tongue, capturing the nectar by quickly curling back up towards the tongue and trapping it as the tongue fully retracts into their head. Hummingbirds can flick their tongues in and out of nectar as many as 20 times per second!

hummingbird drinking

What do hummingbirds use their beaks for?

If they don’t use their beaks as a straw, then what purpose does a hummingbird’s beak have? Hummingbirds have a flexible lower beak that helps them snatch insects in flight. Some also use their beak for self-defense, often against other hummingbirds for territory assertion. Perhaps the simplest use for a hummingbird's beak is as a protective covering for their tongue.

How much does a hummingbird drink per day?

A hummingbird can consume about half of its body weight in sugar water per day and can feed about 5-8 times per hour.

hummingbird drinking nectar from feeder

What do hummingbirds eat?

Have you ever wondered how a hummingbird can live off of sugar water alone? The short answer is - they don't. Even if a hummingbird visits your feeder several times throughout the day, they are often out scavenging for tiny insects and spiders that supply protein and other essential nutrients. A hummingbird’s diet may consist of 50-60% insects. Because of this, we recommend homeowners avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides in their yard, as it could potentially eliminate this crucial protein source that makes up a healthy hummingbird diet.


Now that you know more about how a hummingbird drinks, try setting up a hummingbird feeder and filling it with your own homemade nectar!

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Bird Feature: Baltimore Oriole

Bird Feature: Baltimore Oriole

Identifying Baltimore Orioles:

Slightly smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore Orioles range from 6.7 to 7.5 inches in length and feature long legs, a thick neck, and long pointed bills. Adult male Baltimore Orioles have black feathers on their head and wings, bright orange tell-tale plumage on their chest and underside, and a single solid white bar on each wing. Females and immature males are a more muted yellow-orange with grayish shading on the head, and gray wings with two white bars on each wing. 

Female Baltimore Oriole on jelly feeder   Male Baltimore Oriole on nectar feeder

Above left: A female Baltimore Oriole on a specialized jelly and orange feeder.

Above right: A male Baltimore Oriole on a specialized feeder offering nectar, jelly, and oranges.


Where Baltimore Orioles Live:

Baltimore Orioles are a migratory bird that breed in the eastern portion of the United States and South-central Canada during summer months. Keep an eye out for these birds arriving from early April to mid-May. Their season is short, with some departing as early as late July for wintering grounds in Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. 


How to Attract Baltimore Orioles to Your Feeder:

These birds are often heard more than seen as they typically forage high in trees for insects, flowers, and fruit. They tend to be more skittish than other backyard birds, but you can be successful in attracting them to feeders. One of the simplest ways to attract Baltimore Orioles to your yard is to set up an oriole feeder. 

Maintaining a clean feeder is always important for the health of your birds, but is even more important when offering feeds rich in sugar as these feeds can spoil quickly, especially in the hot summer weather. It is recommended oriole feeders be cleaned every 4-5 days. To clean, take down your feeder and discard any unconsumed jelly or fruit. Flush feeder with warm water. Scrub using either a mild solution of unscented dish detergent and warm water, or sanitize using a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely before refilling.

Female Baltimore Oriole eating grape jelly

What Baltimore Orioles Eat:

In the spring and fall, a Baltimore Oriole's diet is composed mainly of nectar and ripe fruit. Including flowering trees and shrubs such as crabapple and mulberries in your landscaping can help to draw these birds to your yard. The most common food offering for Baltimore Oriole's are oranges, which can be sliced in half and placed in a specialized feeder, or even nailed directly to a tree (or impaled through a smaller branch). A slightly more specialized feeder can allow the offering of additional feed options, such as nectar (sugar water) and grape jelly.  

While breeding and feeding their young, a significant portion of the Baltimore Oriole's diet consists of protein-rich insects. Not overall picky, these birds will consume a wide variety of beetles, crickets, caterpillars, snails, and other small invertebrates. The protein derived from these insects is pivotal in the growth and development of the young, and we strongly encourage withholding the use of broad-spectrum insecticides in your yard to ensure a food source during this crucial stage. 



Baltimore Orioles build extremely unique hanging sock-like nests woven together from slender fibers constructed in the slender upper branches of a tree. Typically these nests are 3 to 4 inches deep with a smaller opening on top and a bulging bottom chamber up to 4 inches across where the eggs are laid. Females gather materials for and construct the nest within the territory defended by her mate. Males will occasionally aid in collection of nesting materials which can consist of long grass, strips of grapevine bark, horsehair, as well as artificial materials such as twine or fishing line (*please do not purposefully set out these artificial materials as they are not the safest options for the birds).  

Each pair will raise one brood consisting of 3-7 eggs each season. Eggs are roughly an inch in length and 0.6-0.7 inches in width and are a pale gray with black or brown marbling. Eggs typically hatch within 14 days and the young will fledge in an additional 14 days. 

Have you seen any Baltimore Orioles on your feeders recently?

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Bird Feature: Eastern Bluebird

Bird Feature: Eastern Bluebird

National Wild Bird Feeding Month is February. To celebrate, we have asked employees to name their favorite birds. This week's bird is a favorite of Elizabeth, our Customer Service Manager - the Eastern Bluebird.

Identifying Eastern Bluebirds:

Eastern Bluebirds are small, beautifully colored thrushes. Averaging between 6-8 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9-12 inches (slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than robins), these blue beauties are fairly easy to identify.  They can often be seen perched in a somewhat "hunched" position on wires or fences in fields and open woodlands. The adult male bluebird has a vibrant blue back, head, and tail that are hard to miss, especially during breeding season. A rust colored accent across the throat and breast above the white belly clearly distinguish the Eastern Bluebird from its Mountain Bluebird relative. Female markings mimic those of the male but in more subdued hues - their "blue" can often look more like a shade of grey.

Attracting Eastern Bluebirds:

During much of the year, bluebirds feed mainly on insects like caterpillars, crickets, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, and worms. They will visit feeders more infrequently when the weather is mild and these food sources are abundant. Their winter diet is heavily dependent on many kinds of wild berries. Making sure to include fruit-bearing shrubs and trees in your landscaping can help to attract these birds. These plants include but are not limited to sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, pokeweed, and juniper berries. Bluebirds can also be attracted to feeders with meal worms or suet.

Erecting a traditional bluebird house can also help to entice bluebirds to your property.


Bluebirds are cavity nesters and they must compete for these spots with other small birds such as chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches. They also have to compete with invasive species such as house sparrows and European starlings. The supply of natural nesting cavities for all these birds has diminished over the years because of habitat loss, the removal of dead trees and limbs, and a shift from the use of wooden fence posts to metal posts. Fortunately, bluebirds readily nest in artificial nest boxes and widespread efforts to provide these boxes have helped reverse dramatic population declines. 

While the male Eastern Bluebird makes a big show of carrying material in and out of the nest box and perching on top fluttering his wings, he only does this to attract a female to his nest site. Once he has successfully caught her eye, the female does all of the nest building. Nests can be identified by loosely weaved grasses and pine needles lined with fine grasses and occasionally animal hair. A typical clutch size can be anywhere from 2-7 pale blue eggs. Eggs typically hatch in two weeks, and young birds fledge from the nest in another three weeks. Depending on your location, the birds may reuse the same nest for additional broods. If you're a bird enthusiast and want to watch the nesting process, we recommend getting a special viewing house with an acrylic window to prevent eggs or young Bluebirds from accidentally falling out of the house.

Leave a comment to share with us your Bluebird stories!

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