Spring is the time of year that many birds and other creatures build nests, because it’s also the time of year that they find a partner to reproduce with. Nests mean eggs and baby creatures, and are brilliant for learning more about animal and insect behaviour.
Nest spotting is an excellent thing to do when you’re out exploring your local neighbourhood and best of all you don’t need to go into the middle of the countryside to find them. Nests can be found in cities, in parks, in forests, in hedges, inside and outside houses, and lots of other places. Wherever you go, if you keep your eyes open, you should be able to spot one.
We’ve collected a few different types of nests you should be able to spot in springtime in the UK, and where to find out even more information on them.
What are nests?
Nests are structures that lots of different organisms build. Birds are probably the most famous for building nests, but they’re not the only creatures to do so. Wasps and bees create nests, mice and squirrels make nests, even gorillas! (Though you’re not likely to find a gorilla nest in the UK)
Nests have two purposes. They are a home for the animal, often built freshly every year in the case of birds and some insects. They are also a safe place to lay eggs or give birth to babies, and raise them up.
Let’s get nest spotting!
These beautiful birds with dark plumage will usually lay eggs twice in a year, between March and July, which means twice as many chances to spot them.
Where: Tall hedges or bushes, sometimes trees.
Appearance: Cup-like nest structure, around 8 – 10cm in size, of dried grass, plants, moss with a smooth mud lining.
House Martin nest
House Martin nests are a fascinating example of an animal that has adapted its behaviour. These birds naturally make their nests on cliffs, but buildings are a little like cliffs and with more and more tall buildings in the countryside, House Martins started to build their nests high on the side of buildings, sheltered by the eaves. This is how they got their common name.
Where: Under the eaves of houses and buildings, or cliffs
Appearance: They look like little curved patches of clay or mud, attached to the side of the building or cliff, with a small opening for the birds to enter and exit.
They might not be a popular insect, but they’re really important for lots of reasons. One thing that’s truly beautiful and amazing is the wasp nest. It’s an incredible feat of engineering and team-work so while we’d suggest avoiding it if there are wasps living in it, if you get the chance to see an abandoned one have a good look.
Where: Often in attics and sheds
Appearance: Wasp nests look like large balls of what seems to be paper, anywhere from the size of an orange to the size of a football. And they are in fact made of paper; the wasps chew wood and turn it into a pulp with their saliva, then lay it down a little at a time to form the nest. Think of how much work that is!
The ubiquitous pigeon with it’s blue-grey feathers and orange beak are wood pigeons, so the chances of spotting a nest are pretty high wherever you live in the UK. Nests can be spotted in the city or the countryside.
Where: Trees or natural (or manmade) platforms like cliff ledges or gutters.
Appearance: These are easy to miss as they often look like a jumbled mess of leaves perched precariously up high. It’s usually made up of twigs and other bits and pieces.
The humble, loveable hedgehog needs no introduction, but the chances are you might not have noticed this prickly animal’s summertime home.
Where: On the ground and hidden under something like logs, sheds or bushes.
Appearance: Made from grass, plants and stems woven together, about 40 – 60cm diameter.
Did you know that you can build a nest for hedgehogs to live in? These can be nice, secure, safe places for hedgehogs to live and have babies. Check out The Wildlife Trusts guide to building a hedgehog house for all the instructions.
Harvest Mouse nest
Harvest Mice are small mammals that live in fields. In fact they are the smallest mammals in the UK! They are about 5 – 7cm long, and their tale is about the same length again. That tale is very handy for getting about and doing things as the mouse can use it to wrap around things to climb, hang off and hold.
Where: Hedgerows, marshes and sometimes near ponds.
Appearance: Looks about cricket-ball size and is round, constructed of grass leaves that have been woven together, and hangs off grass stems off the ground. To see some examples of harvest mouse nests, visit The Mammal Society. You can also join in on their Harvest Mouse Nest survey!
Look, but don’t touch
Whatever kind of nest you find, belonging to whatever animal, insect or bird, it’s important that you leave it well alone.
At best, you could scare whatever is living in the nest, and at worst disturbing the nest can cause the creatures to move away immediately, abandoning whatever’s in the nest including young and unhatched eggs.
If you spot a nest, it’s fine to watch it from a safe distance but be very careful not to disturb anything that’s living in it. Don’t touch it, don’t poke it, avoid breathing over it, and very definitely do not touch any eggs or baby animals or insects.
Observe and record
If you’re lucky enough to have found a nest, then why not help conservationists by becoming a citizen scientist? You could help conservation scientists learn more about when animals, birds and insects are nesting and where.
Firstly, once you’ve identified what kind of nest you’ve found and what organism lives in it, do a quick internet search to find out if there are citizen science projects you can help with. For example, the Bumblebee Trust and the British Trust for Onithology are interested in records of where and when nests have been found, as well as what’s going on in them.
Then, once you know what information they’re looking for, make your notes and send them in. They’ll often have an online form for you to record your results.
Or why not do it yourself just for fun? Keep a record of what nests you’ve spotted, where they are and what activity you can see. Revisit them often to see if things have changed. You could create a map showing where the nests are, or how about doing some drawings of the different nest types? These are both useful records to have, and if you also note down the year and the date, even more so. You could also add extra information like what the weather is like, as this can sometimes have an impact on when creatures nest.
Find out more
If you want to discover more about the types of nests you can spot and the animals that live in them, then check out these great resources we’ve found online.
- How to identify bird and mammal nests from BBC Wildlife Magazine
- Empty bird nest ID guide from The Woodland Trust
- How do birds make nests from The RSPB
- How to monitor nests from The British Trust for Ornithology