Home is Where the Nest is

Now, with more than a couple inches of snow on the ground, the writing about animals tracks seems more fitting. Alas, the weather is hard to predict. Instead we will turn to an above ground scavenger hunt.

Once all of the leaves fall from the hardwoods, we can peek into the activity of the tree as if opening the door to the dream house we dive by everyday and finally being able to walk inside. Maybe absent leaves from a tree does not reveal something so extravagant, but hopefully you get my meaning.

Large trees with many branches can hold several nests we often cannot see until the leaves are gone. The little homes tell us a bit about the area, and maybe you already had a good idea of who lived there. However, it is still fun (at least for me) to see the different forms that these nests take. Of course, not all bird nests are created the same–orioles build nests that droop below the branches and look as though they may fall at any time; hummingbirds build very tiny, cupped nests tucked into a shrub. Shape isn’t the only defining characteristic. Different species uses different materials to build their nests. Our state bird, the American Robin, builds it’s nest using grass and twigs held together with a thick layer of mud, lined with fine dry grass. Chickadees often use moss or animal fur while building their nest which they “excavate” in a tree cavity. Even within species, the nest materials can vary depending on the area the live. If a Chickadee cannot find moss or animal fur, maybe they’ll use that bit of yarn my mother puts out for them instead.

Have you ever seen a mess of leaves in the crook of a tree? They didn’t fall there, believe it or not that is a “built” home. I say “built” because they usually look haphazard and falling apart. Squirrels build these leaf nests, usually, high in a large tree. They aren’t the only mammal that builds nests or creates homes in trees. Raccoons, skunks, and porcupines will use natural cavities in a tree and build their nest within. The nest part is not generally something that can be seen, but the cavities may be more easily seen when the leaves are gone.

As you stroll through Northern Michigan’s beautiful woods this winter, marveling at the way snow hangs upon the evergreens and blankets the stout branches of the hardwoods, those little tree homes may add a new element to your outdoor adventures.

The Tufted Titmouses use damp leaves, moss and grasses, and bark strips to build cup-shaped nests; they line this cup with soft materials such as hair, fur, wool, and cotton, sometimes plucking hairs directly from living mammals. These adorable, flitting birds live in Northern Michigan year round.

Find more information about nests and birds at NestWatch.

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