Tag Archives: new york

Nest Hunt

Late fall through early spring is a great time to look for abandoned bird nests in our parks.  These nests provided homes for young birds last year and are so well built that they have lasted through the harshest of winter weather

When you come upon a nest during your hike, there are a few things to consider when trying to identify which bird species built the nest.

Habitat

Different bird species live and nest in different habitats or places. Some birds nest along river banks, while others nest on the ground, on a cliff, in a shrub or dead tree, in a tangle of vines, in trees, or even floating on water.  In winter, the easiest nests to find are the ones in trees, shrubs, and vines.

Height

How far off the ground is the nest?  Birds such as robins will nest 10 -20 feet off the ground, while a cardinal will build a nest 1 -10 feet off the ground. As with habitat, nest height can help with nest identification.

Shape

The overall shape of the nest is also a clue as to which species built the nest.  Goldfinches, like many bird species, build cup-shaped nests.  Mourning doves build saucer-like nests.  Marsh wrens build a ball-shaped nests and orioles build a pendant-shaped nest.

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Nest Materials

The nests that we see in winter are made from sturdy materials such as plant matter (grass, bark, twigs, small roots, and tree branches), which may be held together by dried mud or spider webs.

Some common nests you may see on your walk:

dscn0333.jpg

One of the most common nests that you can see is an American robin nest. Robins usually build their nests in coniferous trees, like pine trees, that have a couple of horizontal branches near each other.  They will also build their nests in the eaves of buildings and gutters.  Robins use twigs and dead grass to build a cup-shaped platform nest.  Once the nest is formed, the inside of the nest is reinforced with soft mud then the inside of the nest is lined with dry fine grass.  These nests are between 10 and 20 feet off the ground and are quite durable thanks to the mud lining.

Bird_nest_JLundgren3
photo by Julie Lundgren

Blue jays build their cup-shaped nests on horizontal branches or forks in tree branches. They build their nests in conifer or deciduous trees like maple and oak trees 5 to 20 feet off the ground.  The nest is built from twigs, strips of bark, lichen, moss, and grass. Sometimes the blue jay nest builder will use mud to hold the nest together like a robin. The nest is lined with small roots.

ChippingSparrowHamlin

This chipping sparrow nest from Hamlin Beach State Park shows the cup-shaped nest made from dry grass and small roots.  Look for these nests in deciduous trees between 1 and 10 feet off the ground.

GoldfinchMaybe

An American goldfinch nest sits in a sapling along the edge of a field in Allegany State Park.  This cup shaped nest is made of tiny roots and plant fibers which are held together by spider webs.  Look for these nests between 1 and 30 feet off the ground.

Osprey _WellesleyIsland

Ospreys are commonly seen nesting on the light poles at Wellesley Island State Park. They use sticks to build their saucer-shaped nest which they line with grass, sod, bark, or other material. Each year they add more sticks to the nest; with nests growing to over 12 feet deep and 6 feet across as generations of osprey use the same nest.

Yellow Warbler EvangolaSP (MN)

Yellow warbler nests, like this nest from Evangola State Park, are found in small trees and bushes in woodlands near water. Their cup-shaped nests are usually about 10 feet off the ground, but can be as high as 60 feet. The nest is made from grass, nettles, and thin bark strips, which is surrounded by spider webs and plant fibers. If you can look in the nest, you may see the remains of the nest lining of cattail, cottonwood, and cattail seeds and deer hair.

BOriole_Henry T. McLin
photo by Henry T. McLin

Spotting one of these Baltimore oriole nests can be a treat. Baltimore orioles build their pendant-shaped nest in American elm, maple and basswood trees between 15 and 30 feet off the ground. The nest is made from fine plant fibers such as grass, strips of grapevine bark and as you can see here blue man-made fibers. Baltimore orioles tangle and knot the fibers together to form the nest.  The nest is built in three phases, the flexible outer portion is completed first, followed by springy fibers on the inside of the bowl. The springy fibers help the nest to maintain the pendant-shape. Finally, the inside of the nest is lined with downy fibers like dandelions.

Drey

One of the most common nests that you may see are not bird nests but squirrel nests. These leaf nests, or dreys, are made from twigs that are woven together into a ball shape in a tree crotch with an entry on the side of the nest..  They are lined with damp leaves and moss. Dreys have a variety of functions from being a winter retreat from winter’s cold to spring and summer homes for young squirrels.

MiceUsingNestbox

Mice are unexpected nest box visitors.  If you open up a nest box during your hike, you might encounter mice, like these deer mice, who use the nest box as a warm place to hide during winter’s cold days.

Make your next hike a nest hunt hike!  If you do find a nest, tag us on Instagram, #nystateparks.

Learn more about New York’s winter bird nests:

Boring, Mel. Birds, Nests, and Eggs, Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens, 1998.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Dugmore, A. Radclyffe.; Bird homes. The nests, eggs and breeding habits of the land birds breeding in the eastern United States; with hints on the rearing and photographing of young birds, New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1902, c1900.

Harrison, Hal H. A Field Guide to Bird Nests in the United States East of the Mississippi River, Boston, Houghton Mifflin; Expanded, Subsequent edition, 1998.

Heinrich, Bernd, Which Bird Made That Nest? Northland Woods, 2009.

Massachusetts Audubon Society, Nests in Winter.

West Virginia Wildlife Magazine, What’s That Clump of Leaves?

 

Symbols of New York State Scavenger Hunt

Ah, Labor Day Weekend, a perfect weekend to take a hike through your favorite state park.  If you do take a hike, try the Symbols of New York State Scavenger Hunt – let us know how you did.

Red-Spotted Admiral or White Admiral butterflies are one our newest state symbol, they were designated as the state butterfly in 2008.  These butterflies are polytypic – meaning that there are different coloration patterns for this butterfly depending on where it lives. The white admiral variation has blackish blue wings with wide white band.

Admiral
White Admiral. Plismo (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
The red-spotted admiral lacks the wide white bands and sometimes has a row of red spots along the top of the wing. Overall the wings are a dark blue color with a light blue dusting on the hindwing.

If you are hiking in northern New York, you will only see the white admiral.  If you are hiking in any other part of the state, you will see either the red-spotted or white admiral.

Red Spotted Admiral
Red Spotted Admiral, note the red spots on the top wings. FrigidNinja (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Look for Eastern Bluebirds in Park grasslands and on utility wires. These birds are primarily cavity nesters, utilizing hollowed out holes in trees and man-made nest boxes to lay their eggs. Bright blue males are easy to spot while females are a bit more challenging with blueish grey plumage.  Both have rust-colored chests and white bellies.  Eastern bluebirds have been our state bird since 1970.

New York’s largest rodent, the Beaver, can be found in wooded streams, marshes, and along the edge of ponds and lakes.  When you are walking near these wetlands, tree cuttings and chewed trees or shrubs near the shore is a great indicator that beavers are live nearby. If you hear a slap on a pond or marsh, the beaver has spotted you and has slapped its tail on the water to warn other beavers that you are around.  If you can find a spot to hide and have time to wait, you might get a glimpse of these shy animals.  Beavers have been our state mammal since 1975.

Snapping Turtles can be found in marshes, rivers, streams, lakes, and even in urban waterways.  Our largest turtle, their shells can be upwards of 20” long and they can weigh up to 35 lbs.  The upper part of the snapping turtle shell or carapace has three keels or ridges.  The turtle’s shell can vary in color from tan, brown, olive gray or black.  They have a long tail with saw-toothed ridges. Interestingly, snapping turtles have the smallest plastron (or bottom part of their shell) in proportion to their body of any turtle in New York State. Most of their defense strategy is their large size. Look for these turtles swimming slowly through the water with their head poking out of the surface or perched on rocks near the water’s edge. Remember to keep your distance from these turtles; their jaws have a powerful snap! Snapping turtles became our state reptile in 2006.

Female Snapper
Female Snapping Turtle. Lilly Schelling, NYSOPRHP.

The rare Nine-Spotted Ladybug has been our state insect since 1989.  Slightly bigger than a dime, these oval-shaped insects typically have nine-spots on their backs.  If you think you found one, please take a photo, record where you found it and send all the information to The Lost Ladybug Project.

9 Spotted Ladybug
Nine Spotted Ladybug, each wing usually has four spots, plus one spot that overlaps on both wings. http://musingsofabiologistanddoglover.blogspot.com/2011/08/lost-ladybugs.html?_sm_au_=iVVV163fqrZsRWDr.

The Sugar Maple was designated as our state tree in 1956. The bark of a young sugar maple is smooth and dark gray; as the tree ages the bark becomes furrowed in uneven long plates.   Sugar maples have easily recognized leaves that are between 3”-5” long and 3”-5” wide, usually with 5 shallow ‘u-shaped” lobes.   Perhaps you will see the leaves a few of these beautiful trees turning red or yellow during your walk.

And remember to stop and smell the Roses during your hike.  If you do, perhaps you will see some late flowers on some of our native roses such as this Common Wild Rose.  The flowers can be observed either individually or in small bunches.  Look for the common wild rose along roadsides, fields, and salt marshes.  Roses were designed our state flower in 1955; they are our oldest state symbol.

Rose
Common Wild Rose. magnolia1000 from Canada (Rosa virginiana) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
When you are done, why not enjoy some New York state goodies: milk, the state beverage (designated 1981); apple muffin, the state muffin (designated 1987); apple, the state fruit (designated 1976); or yogurt, the state snack (designated 2014.).

Snack
Photo and snack prepared by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

Learn more at:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/education/1887.html

http://www.dos.ny.gov/kids_room/508/symbols2.html

http://explorer.natureserve.org/

http://plants.usda.gov/java/