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Laura Erickson: Nests in your yard are delightful, most of the time

UNLOOKED-FOR FAVOR: A recently fledged Black-capped Chickadee tests its grip outside the nest. Photo by Laura Erickson.
UNLOOKED-FOR FAVOR: A recently fledged Black-capped Chickadee tests its grip outside the nest. Photo by Laura Erickson.

Every summer, I hear from people who just discovered a nest or got a glimpse of parents caring for fledglings. Seeing bird families in your own yard affirms that you’ve created good habitat, and it’s just plain fun.

Some baby birds are welcomed more readily than others, however. People who are overjoyed to see a robin’s nest on their window frame, for example, can be frustrated, even furious, about Cooper’s Hawks in their big shade tree. Folks who set out enough bluebird boxes to accept with equanimity a pair of Tree Swallows might still be irritated by Barn Swallows atop their porch light, spattering the deck with droppings. One rural letter writer admitted that the thrill of having Great Crested Flycatchers nest in his mailbox lasted only until he had to fashion a second box for mail delivery. Our appreciation of baby birds is colored by what species they are and where they happen to be.

A few species are always welcome. I have heard nothing but delight from homeowners who discover chickadees nesting in their yard, and the joy of finding a bluebird nest, on a bluebird trail or in a natural cavity, can be palpable.

In the Upper Midwest, Bald Eagle numbers are swelling, as are tallies of nest sites. In my neighborhood in Duluth, eagles nest in a white pine on the edge of the high-school ball field. The kids treasure them despite a few limitations on activities immediately surrounding the tree during nesting season.

Some territorial birds don’t nest near active feeding stations, while others don’t seem to mind. Cardinals shy away from the hubbub, especially if other cardinals frequent the feeder. But Downy Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches are less standoffish.


Before setting out nest boxes, be mindful of the community of birds surrounding your yard. House Wrens destroy eggs and nestlings and don’t limit themselves to one nest site. Each male builds several stick nests in his territory. To discourage wrens from checking out nest boxes that chickadees might use, set the boxes on trees that have little or no shrubby growth beneath them. Chickadees are great at excavating their own cavities, situated higher than where wrens like, so if you have both species, it’s best to work on attracting wrens and leave the chickadees to their own devices.

If you discover a nest, you may feel the joy Robert Frost shared in his poem “Two Look at Two”:

Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour
Had made them certain earth returned their love.


For nest-box plans and hints, see Carrol L. Henderson’s book Woodworking for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Animals. A third edition was published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2010.


This article from Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of BirdWatching magazine.


Five more columns by Laura Erickson

Steps to take to keep backyard water features safe for birds

Dealing with the smart and spirited Blue Jay.

How planting a tree can ensure a brighter future.

Why I’m drawn to Cedar Waxwings.


The pleasures of finding life birds for a new puppy.


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Originally Published
Laura Erickson

Laura Erickson

Laura Erickson is the 2014 recipient of the American Birding Association’s highest honor, the Roger Tory Peterson Award. She has written many books about birds and hosts the long-running radio program and podcast “For the Birds.” Her column  “Attracting Birds,” about attracting, feeding, sheltering, and understanding the birds in your backyard, appears in every issue of BirdWatching. “Snow Bird,” her first article in the magazine, appeared in December 2003. It described the migration and winter habits of the American Robin.

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