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Unusual Nests

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

August 12, 2019

It had been nearly 2 hours and I was still waiting, perched high up in my aerial blind, nearly 25 feet above the ground. I’ve been patiently waiting for an adult Osprey to return to the nest with a meal for the two young raptors waiting within the nest. My aerial blind is like sitting inside of a cocoon suspended in mid-air. It is completely covered by camouflage material which conceals my presents to the raptors but yet allows me a near eye level view to capture images of the raptor occupants in the nest.

For those who don’t know, the Osprey is a large bird of prey that makes a living by fishing. They are often called a Fish-hawk or Fish Eagle, but they are neither a hawk nor eagle. They are in their own family or class of birds with no close living relatives.

As I waited, I couldn’t help but notice several English Sparrows hanging out around the Osprey nest. The sparrows were busy chirping and hanging around. Then I noticed them disappearing into the thick, tangled mess of branches that make up the Osprey nests. I could see obvious nesting behaviors such as the sparrows bringing in beaks full of food to feed young nestlings. Yes, the English Sparrows were nesting inside of the Osprey nest. Kind-of a nest within a nest scenario. 

I am always amazed at the resourcefulness of birds when it comes to nesting, eating and surviving. In this situation, the sparrows are taking advantage of a safe and protected nesting site that is 35 feet up in the air and protected by a large raptor. This is a great way maximize your offspring’s survival rate since you don’t have to worry about the fish-eating Osprey eating your babies. And any predators that might try to raid your nest, will be surly driven them off by the Osprey.

Which got me thinking about a time a couple years ago, when I was photographing a Canada Goose pair that had taken over a nest of another bird species and was using the nest to incubate their own eggs. The thing is, the nest belonged to a Red-tailed Hawk, and it was located near 50 feet above the ground in a tall Cottonwood tree in Wyoming. The mother sat and incubated her eggs for the full 28 days before her goslings hatched. I can only imagine the young goslings first step outside the nest would have been a rude, 50 foot, awaking.

This spring I spent some time capturing some images of a mother Mallard Duck nesting. Again, nothing unusual about that except that the nest was located about 25 feet up in the fork of a large Silver Maple tree. Originally, the nest was constructed by a squirrel. The Gray Squirrel is notorious for constructing many “extra” nests. These nests are usually made of dried leaves and are used as an emergency shelter.

The female Mallard took advantage of this handy platform and made herself right at home on top of the dried leaf nest. All she needed to do is make a small depression in the leaves to hold her clutch of eggs and it’s an instant nest.

Again, I watched and photographed as day after day, the mother Mallard sat and incubated her eggs. Again, for about 28 days the eggs were incubated. During this near month-long period of time, the mother clung to the nest during violent spring storms, packing strong winds and driving rains. After each major weather event I would check on her to see if she made it and there she sat, as if nothing had happened. On sunny days she slept and rested.

At the end of the incubation time, the young ducklings jumped out of the nest and down to the ground and followed the mother a short distance to shallow pond nearby. What an amazingly resourceful mother to make her nest up in a tree away from many land-dwelling predators.

The point is, nature doesn’t always follow the rules we think are in place for them to follow. Nature is dynamic and ever-changing and is never really the same. Not all Mallards or Canada Geese nest on the ground and not all sparrows nest in trees. We people should take inspiration from these natural rule breakers of nature and accept what comes natural. Be yourself and don’t worry about what others my think or say. You need to be YOU and let others be themselves. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.

Photo by Stan Tekiela

The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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