Attention, teachers and educators!! Swoop down below to the “Learn More” tab to discover successful ways to build birdhouses with your students. Moreover, check out the elementary lesson plans at the bottom of the page in order to build nest boxes and watch live eagle nests on camera with your class!
When you hear birds singing outside your window, you are listening to the echoes of the past – dinosaurs! Paleontologists have unearthed and analyzed dinosaur fossils and bones for two centuries to understand where birds came from. Due to their hard work and research, scientists have found birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, meaning birds are dinosaurs’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great … grandchildren. Do you know why? Dinosaurs and birds have similar skeleton structures and light, hollow bones. Birds also lay eggs and build nests similar to how dinosaurs did 66 million years ago.
Why do birds even build nests? When your parents laid you down to sleep at night as baby, they might have put you in a crib. Bird nests are essentially like baby cribs. They are safe spaces for birds to protect their children from weather, predators, or falling from great heights. And it may take Mama and Papa Bird days or weeks to build the nest! The parents must first search for the perfect location that will provide shelter from wind, precipitation, and sun: perhaps high in a tree, under your house’s roof, or in bushes and shady grasses. Then they must build, build, build! In the springtime, you may see birds flying and carrying grass blades or twigs in their mouth. This means they are crafting and weaving a special “crib” for their eggs. Just like a crib, a nest must be sturdy, but also have cushioning – like a mattress. Birds will construct nests with branches while also using soft materials such as lichen, leaves, feathers, and fine grasses. These soft materials will provide insulation to keep the eggs warm as well as flexibility to adjust to growing baby birds. Some birds will even go to great lengths to blend in and hide (or in other words, camouflage) their nest into the surroundings. A tree swallow or Baltimore oriole may use two weeks to build a nest for his/her family! And bird nests vary in all shapes, colors, materials, and sizes – just like how every artist’s painting is uniquely different. Some bird species will weave ornate baskets that sit or hang from tree branches while other birds will nest in tree cavities, on cliff sides, on top of water, within shrubs or even upon a simple depression in the ground.
Once the birds are finished building their special nest, it is time for Mama Bird to lay her eggs. How many eggs can she lay? Well, the clutch – or the number of eggs the female lays – depends upon the species of bird. Tropical birds may only lay two to three eggs while waterfowl can lay up to 15 eggs! Then, the female (and sometimes even the male) will sit … and sit … and sit … on the eggs for weeks until they hatch. Usually, the larger the bird species, the longer it takes the eggs to hatch. The parent bird must be diligent and keep the eggs heated between 99 to 102 degrees Farenheight – that’s as warm as a high fever! When the baby chick is ready to hatch, the chick must work hard to break free of the shell. It can take hours or sometimes even days! They use a hard bump on their beak called an egg tooth to chip through the eggshell.
You may be wondering how long it takes for birds to raise their young. The answer is … it depends! Some birds are born altricial while others are born precocial. Altricial birds, such as songbirds and seabirds, are born into the world blind, featherless, and weak. To grow strong, they greatly depend upon their parents to keep them warm, sheltered, and fed, like how we did as babies. After a month in the nest, the large and feathery hatchlings may stretch their wings and fly from the nest. Yet, imagine if human babies could walk within hours or days of being born. That is what precocial birds can do! These precocial chicks have feathers and advanced motor and sensory functions when born. Ready to be off the nest, the chicks and parents will journey to brood habitat that is stocked full of yummy insects and grubs for the chicks to eat. However, the time it takes for them to fledge, or fly, may take several months. That’s a long time to avoid predators on the ground without flight. Regardless, once the chick has successfully fledged, the baby chick becomes a “juvenile” and must eventually brave the wide world without their parents.
Breeding and nesting habitats are some of the most critical habitats to birds. Yet, as cities consume and continue to reduce the wild landscape, birds increasingly struggle to find safe spaces to breed, reproduce, and successfully fledge their young. Increases in human settlement may reduce the quality of nesting habitat. More specifically, the spread of human development can:
- decrease vegetation diversity
- decrease prey or food abundance
- increase invasive plant species
- increase nest predation
- increase populations of invasive bird species
- increase bird-human conflicts
- decrease nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds
- decrease the overall amount of nesting habitat available to birds
Yet, organizations and people like you are working actively to reduce and mitigate the impacts of human development. Stretch your wings and watch these two videos like a hawk in order to learn how companies create nesting habitat for great blue herons and osprey. And if you download the lesson guides below, you and your fellow peeps can help bird families find a home by watching birds build nests and then designing your own backyard bird houses for them.
Our educational partner, American Transmission Company (ATC), supported the video content above. To learn more about their avian protection program, check out the link below. Also, look out for ATC’s new bird identification field guide! Book copies may be purchased at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Greenbay, Wisconsin.