Sunday, May 9, 2010

Does touching a bird's nest cause the female to abandon it?

(Male Bobolink.  The male usually helps at the nest, but the female does most of the work.)

Did you grow up with your mother telling you not to touch that robin's nest because the mother would not come back and the babies would die?  Most of us did.  This has to be one of the most frequently uttered adages in all of nature lore.  The fact is, this is mostly myth.

During the 1980s, Eric Bollinger and I studied Bobolinks in upstate New York.  Bobolinks are a polygynous (i.e., males commonly have more than one female mate) species in the blackbird family.  The males have an incredibly long, bubbly song and their appearance is described as having  a tuxedo on backwards.  They are about the size of a sparrow.  Bobolinks build their grassy nest on the ground.  The female lays one egg per day until she has completed a clutch of five, begins incubating with the laying of the penultimate egg (next to last), incubates the eggs for 10-12 days, and then feeds her nestlings for another 10-12 days until they fledge.  Males usually help feed nestlings, but they are not as attentive as females.

Eric and I and our technicians located hundreds of Bobolink nests in those years, which are built on the ground in hayfields and meadows.  Once we located a nest, we placed a bamboo stick in the ground about a meter away from the nest with some colored plastic flagging on the top of the stick so we could relocate the nest at will.  Once found, we checked the contents of the nest every day to determine its progress and success.  When the nestlings were about 7 days old, we removed each one from the nest, collected a blood sample, measured it, placed an aluminum band on one leg, and returned it to the nest.  In some years, we removed the eggs and measured them before returning them to the nest.  In other words, we disturbed the nests a great deal during their three-week life, although we were careful not to trample the concealing vegetation around the nest any more than absolutely necessary.

Nearly 1,000 nests endured this harassment, and Eric and I learned a great deal about the behavior of  females because of it.  If we found a nest while the female was constructing it, she usually abandoned the nest.  If we found the nest when she had laid only 1-2 eggs, she often abandoned the nest.  Once the female had laid her full clutch of eggs and began incubating, she almost never abandoned, and if the nest contained nestlings, she would absolutely never abandon her brood.  The same seems to be true of most other birds as well.

Think of it this way: the more the female had invested in time and energy in the whole operation, the less likely she was to give it up.  Remember also, most birds have only a limited seasonal window during which they can successfully complete the nesting cycle.  In the case of Bobolinks, it takes a total of about 30 days from initiation of nest-building to fledging of their young.  In addition, they continue to feed their fledglings after they leave the nest for some period of time.  Bobolinks do not return from South America until early May and they start moving south again in August.  If they had to start over with the nesting cycle part-way through, they would barely have enough time to get those babies to a size and age where they could endure a long migration at the end of the summer.

Realize that the patterns I have described above probably apply to most songbirds in North America.  They may not apply equally well to tropical birds, which live in an area with many predators, and which always seemed to me to be extremely wary of predation threats.  Those species might abandon their nests more readily than temperate species.

So when your mother or grandmother tells you not to touch that nest because the female will not come back to it, you can say: "Well Mom, it goes like this".  There is a danger of attracting predators to a nest that you have disturbed, and where you have presumably left your scent.  Raccoons are very good at following these clues.  But as far as the female of the nest is concerned, she has invested too much for too long to walk (well, or fly) away easily.

(If you found this post useful or interesting, please consider clicking on the amazon.com icon embedded above in this post to enter Amazon for your online purchases.)

138 comments:

  1. I don't recall messing with any nests, but I do remember robins dive-bombing us (ouch!) if we just got too close to a nest. Some kind of black bird used to do the same thing when I'd walk past a big evergreen on my walks on a street in our old neighborhood.

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  2. Julie, many songbirds will do that. The black bird sounds like it might have been a grackle. If you want excitement, climb 75 feet into a Ponderosa pine tree to get to a goshawk nest while the female dives at you.

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  3. I actually came across this situation yesterday. I found two fledgling robins on the ground, under the tree where their nest was, with their mother looking down at them. They were visibly not strong enough to fly, seemed to be in distress, and were in clear sight of numerous stray cats. One had a broken leg, and the other we rescued after it fell down a storm drain - quite a sight. Given their injuries, we brought them to a nearby nature center, but our presence certainly did not affect the mother too much, as she returned about 1/2 hour later with food and looking for the babies :(

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  4. Allyson:

    Adults will almost never abandon babies. Eggs sometimes, but never live young. Good to hear from you, by the way.

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    1. Me and friend were in the woods today and we found these three baby black birds so we thought we might go over to them and we were looking and taking photos after that the mother came back so we went back again and the mother didn't come back for ages.... So we thought the mother abandoned them so we feed the baby blackbirds (worms) does mother still come back?

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    2. Taylor, the mother will return. No need to feed those birds, and I doubt that their mother feeds them worms.

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  5. How interesting.

    I recall the first robin's nest I looked into. A heap of little birds, a tangle of feathers, and one eye at the top of the heap looking up at me.

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  6. David: I find several bird's nest every year, just so I can track their progress. I never tire of it.

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  7. Dr tom I have an American robin's nest in my back yard with three babies in it and I have a question they have been there for almost a week now and i believe it would be a great experience to watch them learn to fly do you have any idea when the mother will begin to teach them

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  8. They should fledge in a few more days. The female does not actually teach them to fly; they just try and try until they get it. So stay tuned Sara.

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  9. Interesting info, Tom. Well worth the read.

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  10. Thank you I was watching and a few days later they were out but they haven't come back will her offspring go and start a family of their own now or will they needs to wait till they are older

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  11. They won't reproduce until next year. Now, they need to grow up and learn all they need to learn to survive. Then, migrate in late summer/fall and return next year to breed, if all goes well.

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  12. Yes, I was told that as a boy and grew up thinking it was right, or at least that it would be better to be on the safe side by leaving nest alone. This was a very interesting blog article!

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  13. Bard, thanks for the comment. You might find some of my other natural history blogs worthwhile as well.

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  14. I have a robins nest in my wreath on my front door. I opened the door today and a bird flew out of it. I looked in the nest and saw two blue eggs. I've been watching from inside the house for awhile now and I have not seen the mother come back. Will she come back? And if not what will happen to the eggs? Thank you

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  15. Anonymous:

    If you read my blog, you realize that disturbing a nest during the egg-laying stage is problematic. With only two eggs in the nest, the female has not begun incubation yet, so she might abandon the nest. If there are not three eggs in that nest tomorrow, she has probably moved on to build another nest.

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  16. Thank you. Also what would happen to the eggs if the mother doesn't come back?

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  17. Also will the mother think the nest is being disturbed just because I opened the door where the nest is at? It is kinda a high traffic area so I'm suprised she made a nest there in the first place.

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  18. Because the female never started to incubate, those eggs never began to develop. If she abandoned the nest, the eggs will just sit there until something happens to them. The traffic around the door might not have been a problem, IF she had started to incubate. But the egg-laying period is somewhat sensitive, and it sounds like she gave up on that nest. I'm sure she is building somewhere else nearby.

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  19. Thanks for the info. I saw the mother sitting on the nest again this morning but she flys off anytime someone is near the door. So I'm worried about it since she is in the egg laying period now and there is still only two eggs

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  20. I'm so happy she laid a third egg today. So I hope she is here to stay .

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  21. If she returned to lay a 3rd egg, you should be fine. They usually start incubatng with the laying of the next to last egg. Robins usually lay 4, so she should be sitting on them now.

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  22. we had a nest in our tree that got knocked over. there were 3 baby birds and one egg, but one of the baby birds died. we put it up a few feet more in the tree. do you think the mom bird will come back to the other two if her nest has been moved?

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  23. If those two babies are still alive, she should continue to tend them. They will beg and she can not resist.

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  24. I have a little 'house wren' that build a nest in a box on our carport. I glance at the nest everyday as I walk by; however, today when I looked someone, undoubtedly one of my little nephews, placed another box on top of the nest and crushed it down a bit. I took the box off and fluffed the nest back up so I could see the babies, the are alive and warm. I checked on the nest yesterday and it was not crushed so I assume this happened sometime today. Do you think the mother has been coming back to check? I hope she comes back and sees that she can access her babies now, there are 5 little birds in the nest. I think they hatched about 5 days ago so they are mostly nude with a few little sprouts of feathers. I squished up a worm and tried to feed one of them but it would not eat. I know that touching them and the mother not returning is a myth but I was just wondering if in that short amount of time that they were inaccessible to the mother if she would abandon them? Just need a little piece of mind as I am an animal lover no matter the type of animal and I would hate for the babies to die.

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  25. Have a "house wren" (not sure what they are really called) nest on my carport in a box. Have been keeping an eye on them a little bit, they hatched about 4 days ago; however, today when I walked outside and glanced at them I noticed someone had put another smaller box on top of the nest. I removed the box and fluffed the nest open as it was a little crushed. The babies appear to be okay, they were warm and moving when I fluffed the nest and made a little noise. My question is...Would one day of no access to her babies make the mother abandon them? I looked at the nest yesterday and it was fine, then today it had the box on it, undoubtedly the work of my nephews, ugh. The babies eyes aren't even open yet. Do you believe that the mother will resume care of them?

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  26. I'm betting the mother will resume her care. Watch the nest a bit and you should see. She should be feeding them like crazy about now.

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  27. I feel terrible about disrupting a birds nest today. I thought a birdhouse was uninhabited- (usually you will see some activity)and decided to clean it and make it inviting. But when I opened it, I discovered a tiny pink egg on top of the branches. I tried to restore the nest and placed the egg back on top, but feel I may have done too much damage. what are the chances of the mother bird coming back?

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  28. Anonymous: the odds are pretty good she will return if that egg is a fresh egg, and not one from some previous attempt. You can either watch the nest from afar for a while to see if the adult returns, or you could carefully check the nest in a day or so. If there is still only one egg at that time, the female has abandoned it.

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  29. A robin built a nest and laid 4 eggs on my front porch 3 of them hatched but the next day only one baby was there and the other egg still hadn't hatched when I looked through the window this morning all that remains is the egg and the nest looks untouched but i haven't seen the mother? Any explanation?

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  30. Sounds like a predator has been picking off the nestlings. Realize also that the female begins incubation with the laying of the next-to-last egg. Therefore, the last egg laid is a day behind the others, and often does not hatch because the female starts feeding the hatchlings and is not as attentive at incubating the final egg.

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  31. My husband decided to clean out an old nest not thinking that anything was in it, but when he put the crow bar in to pull it down, the momma bird flew off and I just found in the spot he knocked it off to there are 3 really tiny baby birds, their eyes are not even open yet nor do they have any hair. What should we do? Should we leave them there? We just don't know if the mom will come back.

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    1. Just leave it alone. She should come back.

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  32. Under our deck is a robin's nest securely tucked away. The other day my son wanted to take a peek. Knowing the "scent" theory wasn't true I got out the ladder and let him look. 3 fairly developed babies were piled in there. Today I found the nest was knocked off the support beam and the babies were dead on the ground. Was it our disruption that caused it? If it was a predator, it didn't take the babies. What could have happened?

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  33. Missy: your son may have accidentally knocked the nest off (was it still in place after he checked it?). Or, some predators, like raccoons, are known to use the scent of humans to find bird nests, usually duck nests. Was it in a location where a predator could even get at it?

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  34. is it safe to keep visiting a robins nest...or will the mother abandon it

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    1. Once she begins to incubate, it should be safe to visit it. Just don't overdo it.

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    2. In front of my building is flower tree there bird nest there, I can see the baby birds .

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  35. i found a robin nest with one egg in it, the same day i went back and the egg is gone

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    1. Not sure what would have happened there. When there is only one egg in a nest, it is a delicate situation.

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  36. I would like to add my own experience. I have birds (Carolina Wrens) build nest(s) in my garage every year and in the most unseeming locations. Over the washer and dryer. Right nest to the garage door mechanism. Right beside the door I go in and out of many times a day. Usually, when the bird is surprised, she will leave the nest for a while but always returns. I have had at least 5 nests of birds raised fully with the mother being startled off the nest many times every day.

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  37. Unknown, that is a good observation. Yep, the urge to reproduce is about as great an urge as there is.

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  38. Help!! This bird made a nest in my wreath on my front door and laid 5 blue speckled eggs before I noticed it was there. I moved it right next to my door on my house because my wreath moved alot and banged up against my door when I would open and close it. Well I noticed hundreds or thousands of little mites crawling all over my house outside right next to my door. My neighbor told me that they are kinda like lice and can feed off us and my dogs once the birds are,gone and will make their way inside my house. Plus she had pooped on the outside of her nest so much it was getting on my house and I didn't want it to like stain it or anything either. So I moved the entire wreath about 4 feet away off my house onto this gardening wire thing that stands about as tall as the wreath was to begin with. Well mamma bird came to my porch flying around looking for her babies and didn't find them, and I haven't seen her since. That was about 2 hours ago. Now this other bird with like a reddish chest, looks nothing like mamma, kinda the same size is really eye balling that nest. Is the mom gonna find her babies or come back for them? I don't want them to die,I'm so sad. Any suggestions???

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    1. Ashton, it would help to know what species we are talking about, but that is not essential. I wouldn't worry about the mites on the outside of the house, and it seems unusual there would be mites before there were nestlings in the nest. That female was obviously incubating, so if she is not back soon, she probably abandoned the nest. If you could stand it, you could move the nest back to its original location and see if she returns.

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  39. there was a storm yesterday and their was a tall tree we have in our front yard and while the wind was blowing I saw a giant nest fall from the tree and I like birds and figured their could be babies inside and so I went outside and there was an egg laying on the ground and another in the long deep nest they were speckled so I put it in the nest and took the nest with my bare hands and put it in a tree to stay warm
    will the mother come back
    what kind of bird do you think it could be
    and,could I raise them if she doesn't come back
    thanks Isabelle

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  40. Isabelle: I have no idea what kind of nest it would be. Could be dozens of species. If the nest is now in a new location, and it had eggs and not babies, the mother will probably abandon it. Plus, if it only had two eggs, it sounds like the clutch was not completed, so the mother will almost certainly abandon it. It is nearly impossible to incubate those eggs to completion and then to feed nestlings successfully.

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  41. Yesterday, we accidentally disturbed a nest with three eggs of what I believe to belong to a Carolina Wren. We moved a heavy coat that had been on our covered back deck and the eggs came tumbling out, but did not break. We tried to carefully return it, but I'm afraid we didn't know exactly how to place it. I'm hopeful that we didn't cause the nest to be abandoned.

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  42. hello i found a robin's nest in a low flowering tree beside our house, there are four eggs in it. We had a hard rain and now the nest is a bit tilted and the femaile has not been there in two days. has she abandoned the nest?

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    1. If she truly has not been there in 2 days, then she has definitely abandoned the nest. If so, she will probably rebuild elsewhere.

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  43. We have three baby birds in this bird house and my brother who is 7 looked inside and fed the baby birds with dog food. He said he has been doing this but when i looked outside the mother bird was on our telephone pole wire and was watching and then flew away. This just happened like fifteen min. ago. If you have something you know and would like to share please leave a message.♥♡♥

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  44. Anonymous, I'm not sure what your question is. Stay away from the box and watch what happens. I'm guessing that the mother will return soon.

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  45. Hi I've just been cutting the bushes bk in our garden and not knowning blackbirds nesting and I must of frightened it so it flew away will this return as there are a few eggs in the nest ....

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  46. Anonymous, I'm sure the female blackbird came back within minutes.

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  47. Fiance was tearing out brush in the back yard, accidentally knocked down a nest with 3 live baby birds in it.. We tied it back up into a tree.. Don't know anything about birds, was this ok??

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  48. Laci: that is about as good as you can do. The mother should continue to tend them.

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  49. i went on vacation and returned to find specks of debris outside my apartment door. Later on I noticed that when I approached my door a bird would fly away. I discovered that a nest had been built the wreath hanging on my door. It became a problem as I seem to disturb the bird whenever i left and returned, but the droppings at the entrance bothered me. We moved the wreath to a place close to the door, now I wonder if I am an accessory to breaking up a home and if the eggs are not nested properly I am sure they will die...then I am going to feel real guilty...what shoudl I do?

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  50. Anonymous: either you screwed them up or you didn't. Just watch the new nest location to see if the female returns to tend to the nest. If you feel guilty, and you are Catholic, you can go to confession. Ha.

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  51. We have a fern hanging on our front porch. The other afternoon, they were calling for a storm with high winds to occur overnight. My husband took it down, forgetting that there was a nest in it. He set the fern several feet away on the ground. The next morning, I saw that the nest had several eggs and 1 baby bird (not moving). I hung the fern back up where it was hanging but am afraid the mother has not come back.

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    1. I also found a birds nest in a fern hanging on my front porch. I took it down to water it and didn't notice there was a nest in it with one blue egg. I hung it back up but I haven't seen mama bird anywhere. Did she abandon the nest?

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    2. I too have a birds nest with one egg in my hanging fern on my front porch. I took it down to water it and found the nest and now I'm afraid mama bird has abandoned her nest.

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  52. For the last two years I have had a bird that looks like this one make a nest in my wreath on my front door. It is very interesting to watch but being your front door and the main door used to go to the front of my house it can get very annoying. My mom is staying a few days with me while my dad is in the hospital and she will open the door forgetting that the bird and her nest with five eggs is right there. Well, this morning she must have opened the door to go to the hospital and the mama bird flew into my house. My mom has a lot on her mind right now and did not notice that the bird was in the house. About a hour or two later I got up and went into the kitchen and kept hearing something beat on my front windows and sure enough there was mama bird desperately trying to get out of the closed window. Scared the crap out of me at first and literally scared the crap out of her because there was a couple of bird poop droppings near my windows. HA! Anyway I opened my front door all the way and opened the french doors to my back yard and got a broom to kinda direct her to one of the doors and outside. It worked within a minute or two thankfully but I hope it did not scare her from coming back to her nest. I never touched her with the broom so she flew quickly outside and was not hurt by me. While i enjoy watching the nest and babies hatch I also tire of worrying about such things as this happening and I get tired of the bird ruining brand new wreaths and crapping on my white front door and front porch. She also scares people who come to the front door not knowing about the wreath. Last years wreath was made of straw and burlap and I could see how a bird might mistake it for earthy (is that a word?) things. She had or two different birds had two sets of eggs in that wreath and when it seemed that the egg hatching was over and babies flew away I took down that wreath and threw it away because of all of the bird crap even though the wreath was only a few months old. I replaced it with a silk wired magnolia wreath thinking surely it would not or could not make a nest there and boy was I wrong, She was right back there this year. When I first noticed she was in the beginnings of building the nest I tore it down, but by that afternoon she had totally rebuilt what I tore down plus finished it. It is amazing how fast these birds work at these nests and how well made they are. Anyway, long story short, I hope mama bird wasn’t scared away by being trapped in the house cause she has five beautiful little bird eggs here just waiting to be hatched. Does anyone know how long it takes for the eggs to hatch?


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    1. Unknown: you should know by now whether the female returned to the nest. I am virtually certain that she would return. Most songbird eggs take 10-11 days to hatch. I'm not sure what species you are talking about, but phoebes and house finches like to nest in such places.

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  53. So we found a birds nest (unsure of the breed, the eggs are pink and spotted) in our grill last night, unfortunately we have a curious daughter who has disturbed the mamma a couple times. She has come back both times, but my daughter messed wiht the nest again this afternoon and im afriad she might have finally been pushed to the limit. There are atleast 4 eggs in there do you think she will return again?

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  54. I think it was a house wren or a tuft titmouse? I really hope she comes back for those eggs

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  55. Dr Tom. I am distraught! A pair of birds built a nest in a fern that I hang outside. When I tried to bring it in for frost I noticed the beginnings of a nest. The ferns have been back out and there was a lot of activity around the ferns. Just three days ago I took down and covered the ferns but left them in the porch. Then it rained and I set them outside for a few hours. As I was hanging them back up I saw an incomplete nest in one fern and a complete nest in the other with more than 2 eggs. I wouldn't have been moving them if I had known! Do you think have caused the bird family to abandon their nest for the year? :(

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  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Anonymous and Liz: by now, you should know if your nests have been abandoned. With 4 4 eggs, the clutch was likely complete, and the female would return within hours to incubate if she was going to do so. The nest with 2 eggs was not complete. Females lay one egg per day, usually early in the morning, until the clutch is complete. So, your nest should have a third egg today, if the female returns. I would love for each of you to report the results here.

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  57. We put up a bird house (nest box) outside on our front yard near our house around mid February. Last week I noticed some plant fibers in it (starting of a nest), but nothing has been added to the nest since then. Do you think it is abandoned? Should I clean out the nest box so another bird can build or will the previous inhabitants return to finish the nest? It is still early in the nesting season, so I don't know what to do. Please advice!

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  58. Anonymous: that is a tough one. If I knew which species of bird it was, I would know better what to advise. However, I would leave it alone for now and just watch. Even with the nest material that is in there, another bird would probably not be discouraged from using the box anyway.

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  59. Hi, we have a Carolina wren nest in the wreath on our front door. They've been building it for a little over a week and now there are at least 2 or 3 eggs in it. My husband took the wreath off the door today because our house was being pressure washed. He returned the wreath (the nest and eggs are fine) but I'm worried the mother bird will not return. What are the odds it will be OK? The nest was off the door about 10 hours and I don't think she was incubating the eggs yet.

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  60. Unknown: the odds are 62% that she will return. Actually, I do not know in this case. Watch it for a day and you will know the answer.

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    1. Good news! She came back today and is now sitting on her nest. It looks like she has at least 4 eggs in there, maybe 5.

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  61. Hello! I accidentally disturbed a small bird's nest that was well-hidden in my artificial Christmas tree on the front porch. I found the nest when I turned the tree on its side to take it apart, and saw 3 baby birds staring up at me. I immediately put the tree back as close as I could to where it was, unfortunately, it looks as if the nest is fallen shut, disturbed, perhaps shuffled, and I can't see an opening now. I didn't see it originally, and don't know how "covered" it was before. Could this deter the mom from uncovering the nest to find the babies? I've seen her around the porch in the last few minutes, seeming confused at the changes to the tree/nest. Would she be able to dig them out, if necessary? Wish I could send in bird rescuers. (Totally feeling all the feels...I'm so sorry birds!) Thanks for your help!

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    1. RatCoGirl: the mother will do everything in her power to feed those babies. So I recommend that you do what you can to arrange the nest the way it was. I'm not clear on whether it was originally an open cup nest or a covered nest, which seems like an unusual nest in an artificial tree. Just try to restore it to something like it was originally, and the female will do the rest.

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  62. Hey; we recently found a field sparrow's nest in my broccoli plant(Which is in a 5gallon fish tank sitting right next to my back door on the railing around the porch). We watched the eggs for days, and the babies hatched a few days ago. .. My puppies knocked it down this morning and shattered the tank. The babies were okay, and I had a spare fish tank to put the nest, plant and babies back into(but we had to rip open the nest to make sure the babies were okay). Mom and dad bird were both flying near us with worms, watching what we were doing, and the babies kept trying to jump out after, so I fashioned up a cardboard barrier to make the tank higher.

    The parents'll come back even though the nest is different now, right?

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  63. Anonymous: I doubt that wild horses could keep them away at this stage of the game.

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  64. Thank you for this article! It debunked a few myths I had heard during my childhood. A pair of juncos have been perching on the fence near our house for the past few days, and I suspected they were scoping things out in the interest of raising a family; this morning I saw them perched on the fence, but the female had a mouthful of dried grass. I kept an eye on her, and to my distress she had chosen to nest UNDER an old tarp on our lawn. The nest looks complete, or nearly complete, but I did not want anyone to carelessly step on the tarp or run it over while mowing, so I moved our dog's old igloo over the edge of the tarp. I'm hoping it doesn't get too hot in there with the 90+ degree heat wave we're expecting, but the door to the igloo is pretty wide. Trying to decide whether to replace it with one of the wire cages surrounding our blueberry bushes (would this be better?). I hope she has time to build elsewhere if she doesn't like the addition, and I did lift up the tarp several times which may have slightly disturbed the nest--not sure why she chose that place, since we tromp past there every day and there are a few cats who wander through now and then--but I think I've done the best I can. Just keeping an eye out to see if they come back. If she does nest there, I'll definitely put some sort of fence around the area to keep out the neighborhood menaces (cats and 'coons).

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  65. Anonymous: in a case like this, if it looks like the nest has a low chance of ever surviving because of the conditions, you might just discourage the bird from nesting there (i.e., just pick up the tarp and put it away). It is obviously only starting to build a nest, so it is early in the season. She has plenty of time to build elsewhere. One year I had a junco who kept trying to build a nest on the top of one my tires of our parked car. Of course, the nest was destroyed every day or two, because I needed to use the car. She eventually got the idea and built elsewhere.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond, DrTom; I appreciate you sharing your experience with those of us who might otherwise be standing around scratching our heads in bewilderment. I'll go back out and have another look, and if it appears to be too much of a death-trap for her to raise a family, I'll see to it that she builds elsewhere. If juncos only use their nest during spring, it shouldn't be as much of a problem. Any wisdom you could lend me on that front would be appreciated if you have time. Very curious as to how long juncos actually use those nests. Thanks again, and have a great day.

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    2. Anonymous: most songbirds use a nest only once. If they nest again during the same season, they usually build a new nest (i.e., predators might have learned where the old nest was by that time, so change locations). Few songbird nests even last until the following spring; they simply disintegrate.

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    3. Appreciate the information; I had no idea songbirds rebuilt their nests so often. Hoping our resident juncos nest in a safer location next time.

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  66. We have a birds nest in our front porch light. We have been watching it for a few weeks and just found an egg on the ground a few days ago half open with a dead baby. So I closed off my porch and put a come put her down just in case a Nother falls out it has a soft landing . Is it OK to watch the bird nest through my front screen glass door. It is amazing to watch but I do not want to disturb them. How often will they lay eggs? is this the last one of the season because we want to actually get rid of the nest so we can use that front door. I even bought a pretty bird house hoping they will use that next time. Is it true a baby can fall out if alarmed by us? Thanks in advance.

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    1. Elena: It sounds like you might have an Eastern Phoebe nest on the light. You should be able to watch them through a window with no problem. Birds lay only one egg per day until the clutch is complete. In your case, the female must have completed her clutch and begun incubating, if there was a dead bird in an egg. Also, birds that build an open cup nest, like the one on your light, will not nest in a nest box. Other species do that. If you, in fact, have a phoebe, they will most likely nest again after this brood has fledged.

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    2. Thanks for your response. Wow so we may not be able to remove the nest until.... Fall? �� We have a led light in there and we haven't put it on in a month. We are going to need to use that front door this summer. How can I stop them from using the light as a nest? I believe the eggs have hatched because both parents are going back and forth with food every 10min. How long until they come out to try and fly on their own? The comforter I left out there just in case a baby falls out, is it necessary? Will it help when they come out to try and fly? I don't know how much longer I can close off that entrance lol. Thanks so much

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    3. Elena, oh no. The young will fledge from that nest about 10 days after they hatch. Go ahead and remove the nest at that time and use the door. They will simply nest elsewhere for the second nesting of the year. And go ahead and remove that comforter.

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  67. I feel bad. I will wait to remove nest and do it it the fall.😊 I will just have them use the door and hope the bird doesn't fly inside the house again 😳 Thanks

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  68. Tom,

    I have a nest of Robins in a row of hedges in my backyard. The hedges are going to be removed Wednesday when construction on a backyard project begins. There are 3 babies in the nest that were hatched last Friday. I need to move the nest by Wed morning. What is the best suggestion on moving it. My options as I see it are - put the nest in a planter and hang the planter from the underside of my patio roof (roughly 8 feet above the current nest location), move the nest to a similar hedge roughly 20 feet from its current location, or cut down the individual bush and move the bush with the nest in tact (that would likely be a tough option since I'm not sure i could move it without disturbing the nest). Do you have any recommendations?

    Thank you

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  69. Anonymous: this is a tough one. I have had little experience moving nests that contain nestlings. If I understand the dates, by this Wed the babies will be about 5 days old, only half way through the nestling period. I like the sound of your first option the best. As long as the female knows where the nest is, I believe she will continue to feed them. You may have a predator issue now, however, if the nest is easy to see from the ground.

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  70. We have a nest that Mama Robin built on top of the weeds on our fence. We've been watching since the first egg was laid, and the babies are now 8 days old. I know they're going to fledge soon. We have two dogs and ever time we let them into the yard, someone stays to supervise so they don't disturb the nest. But I'm worried that when the babies fledge, that the dogs might be out, and will get them. Is there anything I can do other than keeping the dogs out of the yard until they're gone?

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  71. Kerry M: no. But I doubt the dogs would be able to catch those birds once they have fledged.

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  72. Hi!
    I am searching the internet for an answer about a robins nest that we are lucky enough to have in our yard this year :) every year we leave our Christmas tree leaning up against the house till spring because we enjoy burning it when the weather gets nice for a fire.. Well this year we noticed a robin built a nest and already laid some eggs in there. So we sat it back up and let it be. (It does stink that its right next to our garage, a really traveled area - our kids and ourselves try to avoid the area but sometime we have to go there & feel bad when we startle mama!) anyway.. We don't look often but have snuck a few peeks. Yesterday I noticed there is babies born! 2 or the 4 eggs yesterday morning. They are nude and just have a few feathers. Mama bird never goes far, she does a good job takinf care, and dad bird stays near helping too. I have grown a little attached and would be sad if something happened to them. My question is.. Well I have a few. Her nest is pretty tilted, and it wasn't to begin with.. I think it is from being startled and jumping out so many times. Would it help if I adjusted it? Or would that cause more harm? They are just almost to the point of falling out. Also we've had a lot of rain and tonight I just read we have freezing/frost warnings.. Do the babies usually survive that? Thanks for any info!! I appreciate it.

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    1. Anonymous: it might be worth it to try to stabilize the nest. Level it up the best you can. The freezing temps are not good for baby birds, but the female will brood them through the night, and they should be ok. However, bad weather at the wrong time results in the death of wildlife all the time.

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    2. Thank you for your response! I will feel a little better when I adjust the nest.. Just didn't want to if I shouldn't! & I assumed that with the weather.. Shoot. I will hope for the best! Suppose to be 30s and feel like 20s! Thanks again.

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  73. I was photographing three nests and before the eggs hatched, they disappeared. I never touched the eggs but I did touch the different bushes they were in. Did I cause a problem?

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    1. It seems unlikely that you were responsible, but it is always possible that you had some predator follow your scent from nest to nest. In some situations, mainly for ground-nesting ducks, raccoons have been known to do this.

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  74. A bird (small brown) laid 2 eggs in her nest which is in my garage, the mom and dad were in the nest and we opened the garage door and they flew out. they have not been back. we have been leaving the door cracked so they can come and go but have not seen them. will she ever return? what should we do?

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  75. Birds only lay one egg per day. If it has been more than one day since there were two eggs in the nest, and there are still only two, they have probably abandoned the nest. They will simply nest elsewhere. All you could have done was to leave the door open, and they would use the opening to get to the nest, or not.

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  76. I accidentally cut down a tree branch with a nest on it. 3 baby birds fell out and I stood the branch up, put the birds back in even though I was getting attached by what I guess we're the parents. I put the babies and the branch inside a bush that's as big as a tree outside my back yard where the tree was. I also have 2 very large dogs so I thought outside the fence was best. I am extremely worried about them feeding. I think it is a Robbin nest. Will the parents still tend to their babies? I can't handle being the one who set a bad fate into their lives. Please help advise if the parents will tend to them!

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    1. Th parents should continue to feed them. But watch a bit, and you will know.

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  77. Hi, there is a bird's nest in an evergreen bush in my yard. Last evening, my husband removed the best before realizing there were 2 baby birds in it. One of the babies fell out. He replaced the baby and tried to place the nest back as best as he could. The mother bird went in and out of the bush after this but we haven't seen her since. I've checked on the babies a few times today but I've only seen one of the babies move - once it was opening its beak looking for food. I'm afraid the other baby might be dead maybe from the fall since it hasn't changed positions. The baby I've seen still has its eyes closed and they both have gray fuzz all over. I'm so worried the mother might've abandoned them. Anything I can do for the babies? I feel so bad that their nest was disturbed. (Sorry if this posted twice).

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  78. I think you have done everything you can do at this point. When the nestlings are as young as yours, they do not move much and might appear dead. I'll bet it is ok.

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    1. Thank you for responding. How often should the babies be fed? There is another nest down the street and I constantly see the parents flying around going in and out of the mailbox. I haven't seen any birds going in and out of our nest though.

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    2. The babies are fed almost constantly during daylight hours. As they get older, the feeding rate goes up.

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    3. Ok, I'm losing hope then. I'm so upset we caused this.

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    4. I just checked on the babies and I'm almost positive they are dead. I pulled back the branch and touched the nest and when I pulled my hand back out little black bugs were all over me. I guess I should dispose of the nest now?

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    5. You are probably correct. But go ahead and pick one of the babies up, and it should be obvious if it is dead.

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    6. Yes, they are dead. Little black bugs are inside the nest and it has a stench. One of the babies was alive just yesterday. I'm so sad we caused the mother to abandon them.

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  79. Please help!!! I have a nest of Carolina wrens (4 babies) on my porch. it's a high traffic area, but mother bird has never seemed to mind us coming and going and we are careful not to disturb the nest. I estimate the babies are less than a week old. I am very worried because I came home late (after dark, around 10pm) and the mom was not on the nest. I always see her sitting on them at night, but not tonight. I checked about 2 hours later and she still wasn't there, but the babies stuck their necks out and cried. should I bring them inside to keep them safe from predators/keep them warm?? or should I let them go overnight and wait to check if mother bird returns in the morning? I am very worried and can't find good info anywhere. thank you in advance

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    1. Did the mom come back, this is the exact same scenario for a nest on my front porch. Happened last night. I just got up (5am) and still no mom.

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  80. Leave them in the nest. If you removed them from the nest, you would have to feed them and raise them, and this is a nearly impossible job with 4 young songbirds. I'm guessing the female will return today.

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  81. I typically never mess with my bird houses but my neice was over today and wanted to see one, i opened the lid of one i thought the birds were done with and out flew a sparrow and there were 5-7 eggs in there, i didn't want to go back and look again and bother her, what are the chances she will return to her eggs, i feel horrible for opening it. Thanks

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  82. Replies
    1. Thank u so much for responding Dr. Gavin, i was so upset to think id interfered w her nesting, she was screaming at me from another tree so i was hoping that was a sign shed be back...thanks again!!

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  83. Hi. We cleaned our deck and inside the grill cover was a birds nest with four babies. We discovered them when we saw them on the gorubd. We put it in the bush right next to where it was originally but I am extremely concerned the momma won't come back. I haven't seen her and this happened a few hours ago. I really don't know the type of bird. I assume a Robin?

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  84. It doesn't sound like a robin inside of a grill cover. But either she will come back or she won't. Not much else you can do.

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  85. I have a birdhouse with some babies in it. Im not sure what kind they are but the parents are very tiny. One of them is always going in and feedind the babies. Last nigbt and tbis morning i haven't seen either parent. The babies have been crying out nonstop and peeking out. Im not sure what to do. They are about 2weeks old.

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  86. Nothing much you can do, unless you want to feed them, and that is a LOT of work. Most species fledge their young at about 10-12 days, so it sounds like they may be ready to go anyway. Older nestlings beg almost constantly, because they eat like crazy at this stage.

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  87. I posted a minute too soon. I guess the parents were encouraging babies to come out because one by one they just did ! Too adorable for words !!!

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  88. My nest had 4 eggs laid in ir in laSt 4 days, 2 tan and 2 speckled. tonight the 2 tan eggs are gone. What could have happened? The nest is inside a light fixture, no way of eggs falling out

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  89. There has been a nest that I found in one of the bars under our carport. There were 4 eggs in it and (even though now from reading your post that the whole scent theory is not really true in a lot of cases), I still made sure not to really touch or breathe close to the nest. Every morning when I went by the bar, the mother would fly off. Which made sense. Yesterday morning, I found one of the eggs hatching. I took photos but never disturbed them. Late that night I saw the little pink baby bird with a few hair on it out of the egg and in the nest before I went back inside and slept. This morning, I went to go and see them when I looked in and didn't see the hatched bird in sight. I look around and under the carport and even in the grass near by. Is it possible that the mother has left and the other eggs are dead?

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    1. If that day old chick is missing already, it is dead. But you will know if the female gave up. Watch for her. Also, if one egg hatched, the others should hatch within 24 hours. If they do not, then the female is gone for sure. But right now it sounds like a predator caught the female and the nestling during the night on the nest. Sorry for the bad news. I doubt you had anything to do with it.

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  90. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  91. Michelle KrumwiedeMay 9, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    We have a pesky tree that is growing into a building and a fence, my husband began the process of removing branches to cut it down and cut down a robin nest with 2 eggs. We put the eggs and nest back on a nearby branch thinking that was probably the best shot. Mom Robin has been back checking out the area,but do you think k she will return to her eggs?

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    1. She might return, but because her clutch is not yet complete (4 eggs), I doubt it. She will rebuild somewhere else.

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  92. Hi. We have a robins nest under our deck that has been used year after year. Its a large deck, and the nest in in the middle of the deck. The eggs hatched 3 days ago. This evening we were hanging lights and planters around the perimeter of the deck. Mom or dad bird was watching and squawking from afar as they usually do when someone walks near the nest (its a relatively high traffic area with humans and dogs). We just finished our project about an hour ago (after dark). I peeked out at the nest 15 mins ago and the adult bird hasnt returned. Usually the adult will return when we are about 20 + feet away from the nest in any direction. Lights are off, dogs and humans are inside, but still no adult bird. Thoughts?

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  93. A Carolina Wren built a nest in a small watering can about 8" from my front door knob. She has 5 eggs and has been incubating them for 2-3 days. Due to the location, she flies out every time I open the door however has returned every time before tonight. Since there are many outdoor cats in my neighborhood, I have been gradually & very carefully raising the plant stand on which the nest sits about 1 foot a day to make it less vulnerable to the cats. That did not faze the mother until tonight when I raised it again....this time she flew to a tree about 20 feet away and yelled (chattered) very loudly at me, terribly upset. She has not returned to incubate and it has now been dark for almost 3 hours, the outside temperature is 66 degrees. Is the mother likely to return to incubate the eggs? Does one night off the nest kill the embryos when the temp does not drop below 65? I'm very upset that she did not return tonight, however I have observed several of the neighbor's cats frequenting my front porch 3-10 times a day since she started incubating...that 28" tall table was a ticking time bomb, although the cats did not yet realize there was a nest they certainly would have when the eggs hatched. What can I or should I do now? Thank you!

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    1. Well, you should know the answer by now. If she was not on the nest this morning, she probably abandoned the nest. I think you did the correct thing. I would have thought it would work, but every species is a bit different in their tolerance to nest disturbance. Let us know if she returns.

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    2. She was back this morning by 630am! Thank you Very much for responding quickly. I could not find much information to guide me & was concerned I had handled the nesting can/table inappropriately. The nesting can is now 6 feet above the ground and mama wren is happy, doesn't flush except for once when I bumped the can. I will leave her alone now and deal with a cat barrier/deterrant before babies fledge.
      Thank you so much! Jayne.

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  94. Hey there, unsure of what else to do in this situation. a pair of house finches (i think) built a nest in the wreath outside our door. The eggs hatched somewhere bw may 5 and may 9th. we had a pretty bad storm this evening which blew the wreath down, scattering the nest-- i found the nestlings on the ground. all were alive. i placed whatever nest material i could find left into a cardboard box and moved the nestlings into that...and put it on a bench near the front door. What else can be done at this point? thanks!

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  95. If the eggs hatched that long ago, then the nestlings should be about ready to fledge. I am guessing that the parents will continue to feed them in your box and that they will fledge soon.

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  96. A bird made a nest on my wreath on Wednesday I went out to see them how they were doing and today is Friday I went out again to see how they were doing and there's no baby birds or eggs anymore can you tell me what happened ?

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    1. I need more information. If they just made the nest on Wed, then they have probably not laid any eggs yet.

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    2. They made the nest in the being of April and round may they laid 5 eggs 2 of the 5 eggs hatch on may 12 they were two baby bird in the nest on Wednesday but gone on Friday morning when I went out to look

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    3. Then the contents of that nest were destroyed.

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  97. I have listened and watched the baby birds in my front porch light for a couple of weeks. Just 2 days ago they were so loud and the mother and father were back and forth feeding them constantly. Today I do not see the parents or hear the babies. I did see 1 baby bird left in the nest. Not sure what to do. Are the parents coming back for it? I can only see the head because it is up so high. The eyes and mouth were open but no sound. What do I do? I don't want it to die

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    1. The baby left may be the runt of the litter. I would think that the parents will continue to feed it, but maybe not.

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