Funky Nests in Funky Places

funky nest
What funky places have you spotted a bird's nest? Photo provided by author

Almost everyone has occasionally seen a bird nesting in an unusual place. Just around my house I’ve had a swallow nest on light fixtures, a starling nest in a rain gutter, a dove nest on an old boat trailer behind the pole barn – but these aren’t the strangest places I’ve seen them or heard of them and I’ve seen some really funky bird nests since I logged onto the www. website and learned about their annual contest called “Funky Nests in Funky Places” contest and viewed some of the early entries.

A product of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the organization based at Cornell University which conducts numerous “citizen” participatory projects such as backyard bird counts, Project Feeder Watch and others, this one is a light hearted look at the funky places birds choose as their nest sites.

As you are outside this spring and summer, check out store signs, streetlights, balconies, traffic lights, gutters, downspouts, rooftops, stadium lights, light fixtures, grills, utility poles, potted plants and more! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find, and then share your discoveries with others by entering the FNFP contest.

They are not looking for professional photographers as much as interesting stories. Youth are encouraged to submit entries with special prizes for young nest finders.

It’s quite interesting to watch a bird build a nest, then lay eggs, incubate and eventually hatch their brood but there are some guidelines nest watchers should follow to ensure they aren’t jeopardizing the well being of the birds, eggs or nestlings:

  • Don’t check in the early morning: Most birds lay their eggs in the morning, so plan on visiting nests in the afternoon. Also, most adults will temporarily leave the nest when you are near, and eggs and young nestlings can become cold quickly if left alone in the morning.
  • Avoid nests during the first few days of incubation: If necessary, observe nests from a distance and approach only when the female leaves the nest. Early on, the mother bird may decide she’s better off abandoning the eggs and renesting elsewhere if she’s constantly rousted from her work.
  • Do not approach nests when the young are close to fledging. When the young are disturbed during this stage, they may leave the nest prematurely. Young that fledge prematurely usually do not stay in the nest despite attempts to put them back, and their survival rates away from or outside the nest are low. So when young birds are fully feathered and very alert, only observe the nest from a distance.
  • Avoid nests during bad weather: If it is cold, damp, or rainy, postpone checking nests until another day. Checking nests during this time can be very stressful for birds.
  • Don’t check nests at or after dusk: Females may be returning to the nest for the night, and be alarmed by your presence, especially if you are wielding a flashlight.
  • Minimize disturbance at the nest: It is important not to startle a bird as you approach the nest; this may cause it to accidentally knock out eggs or young when it flies off. Before approaching the nest, try to see if a parent is sitting on it. Whenever possible, wait a few minutes to see if the bird leaves on its own. If they do, this is the ideal time to check the nest. If a sitting bird does not leave on its own, do not force it off the nest. In this case, you will need to come back later. Remember to keep each visit brief.
  • Never handle birds or eggs in the nest: Eggs can be easily cracked or small nestlings injured, and there is no reason to touch them, despite how cute or interesting they may look. Small nestlings are remarkably helpless and may not be able to crawl back into the nest cup if displaced, even inside of a nest box. Children observing nests should always be under the supervision of an adult.

So be on the alert. If you find a funky looking nest or a bird’s nest in a funky place, you are a winner just from the experience. Snap a photo and send it in and your winning entry could win a prize.

Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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