Do birds recycle their nests?

posted in: Nests | 5

Most birds that build cup-nests do not reuse them. They rebuild a new nest each year and sometimes recycle the nesting material. One reason for this is that the nest, after one cycle of breeding, often has outlived its usefulness. The dried soft plant materials would have begun to rot. Another reason is that there would be the typical odour left by the birds and their nestlings after the latter have fledged. Such odour can attract predators. A third reason is that old nests often contain a large number of ectoparasites that are potentially harmful to the developing young.

Among birds that build large platform nests of twigs that are more lasting, recycling of the nests may be common. These include large nests of ospreys, eagles, storks, hawks and kites (above).

Hole nesters, especially birds that are not able to excavate cavities for themselves, need to reuse nests previously occupied by other species. Sometimes they evict the current occupants in order to make use of the cavities for themselves. The case of the Long-tailed parakeet (Psittacula longicauda) trying to take over the nest cavity of a pair of Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis) is a good example.

Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) sometimes build over an old nest or partially completed nest (above). However, Lena Chow reported that the birds in her garden did use the same nest a few times, although she was not sure whether it was the same pair of birds or different pairs. But she observed recycling of nesting material year in and year out.

Similarly, sunbirds rarely, if at all, reuse old nests (above). House Crow (Corvus splendens) does not reuse last season’s nest but recycle the nest material if the old nest is nearby (below). Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus) on the other hand sometimes repair an old nest as can be seen by the green material weaved over the older brown material.

Input by Lena Chow, YC Wee; images by YC Wee except top by Chan Yoke Meng.

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5 Responses

  1. Lam Chun See

    Thanks for this post. Answered a question I have always wanted to ask.

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  2. I have been very fortunate to witness yellow-bellied sunbirds build their nest and raise two gorgeous chicks on my terrace. They left the nest just a few weeks ago. Then today a new (or is it the same) sunbird couple inspected the nest and started adding some material. I read online that sunbirds use the same nest year after year.. but it’s only been a few weeks. How often per year do they breed (in the tropics)? Could this be the same couple? Or do sunbirds use a nest of another sunbird couple? Thanks!

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    • Kwong Wai Chong

      From my personal observation, if the yellow-bellied sunbird you are referring to is the olive-backed sunbird (3rd picture from top in above article showed a female olive-backed sunbird in its nest), it is most likely to be another pair reusing the same nest.

      In Feb 2007, a pair of olive-backed sunbirds built a nest in one of my plants. They were successful; raising 2 chicks. Just 2 weeks after the chicks fledged, another pair of sunbirds took over to reuse the nest.

      By looking closely and comparing the sunbirds’ features, I can conclude with certainty that the 2nd pair was different from the 1st pair. Moreover, since it’s just 2 weeks after the nest was vacated, the first pair would most likely be busy attending to their newly fledged juveniles.

      How often do they breed? I would like to know too. Anyone can fill in regarding this?

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  3. […] cup-nests mostly do not reuse them; instead, it is rebuilt in the next breeding season if need be (2). Only the nesting material is recycled, provided that the plant materials have not begun to rot. […]

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  4. […] More about sunbirds and all kinds of birds in Singapore – on the Bird Ecology Study Group (BES) http://www.besgroup.org/ […]

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