A Strange Nest, a Typical Nest, a Flycatcher, and a Swallow

A few weeks ago I got a call on the radio about a bird’s nest next to the Vapor Rings Exhibit in Catch the Wind. This was a “You gotta to see this” kind of call, so I hightailed it up to Vapor Rings to see for myself.

wren nest
A nest placed on a post in Catch the Wind. Most birds make an effort to conceal their nest, or at least place the nest out of reach of potential predators.

I didn’t quite know what to make of the nest, but knew it was odd due to its location, on top of a post! It was a large nest (that’s a 6×6 post in the photo). Brown Thrashers make large nests, but certainly not out in the open, and not quite as sloppily constructed as this one.

cwren eggs
The nest contained 3 small eggs.

A look at the top of the nest revealed a small cup of somewhat tightly woven grass and 3 small eggs, too small for a thrasher. In my mind this looked like a Carolina Wren’s nest, but I’d never seen one built on top of a post before.

Carolina Wrens are known for building several nests, often in the strangest of places. Besides the occasional bird house, they also choose flower pots, ornamental wreaths, tractors, log splitters, a pocket in clothes hanging on the line to dry, the inside of my van…the list goes on. I reasoned that a wren building a nest on top of a post is not that much of a stretch, although I knew that there was still something that was not quite right about this situation.

It was several days later while reading an internal report here at the Museum that I noticed a reference to someone in the Exhibits Department removing a nest from one of the air canons at the Vapor Rings Exhibit.

That’s it!

I contacted the Exhibits Department and sure enough Exhibits Technician Kevin Lloyd had removed a nest from an air canon.

air canon
This is the air canon in which Carolina Wrens had built their nest.

Since there were three eggs in the nest, Kevin placed it on the post in hopes that perhaps the owners of the nest would continue to use it. A noble gesture, for sure. The wrens, though, would most likely abandon that nest and build another one in yet another inconvenient place, as I’m sure they did. We have no shortage of Carolina Wrens at the Museum and these would simply take their loss in stride and move on.

That was the strange nest. The typical nest was, or is, in a shrub that dozens, if not hundreds, of people walk by each day. I spied it one day while making my final rounds at closing time. As I stood next to the shrub the bird adjusted herself on the eggs, her movement causing a branch to move slightly. I looked in through the leaves and there, staring back at me was a bright yellow eye, a Brown Thrasher’s eye.

brown thrasher
A Brown Thrasher stares out at me from her nest. She is sitting on eggs.

The flycatcher in this story is a Great-crested Flycatcher.

gc flycatcher
One of two Great-crested Flycatchers working the woods near the Lemur House. Their quarry? Insects of course. Flying or crawling, either will do.

There were two of these large, yellow-bellied flycatchers hunting together in the woods above the Lemur House. Perhaps there is a nest full of young, hungry flycatchers somewhere nearby waiting for their parents to return with a beakful of insects. We’ll soon see, as I usually see a family group of these birds later during the summer.

And finally, Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I’ve been seeing these swallows regularly over the Wetlands since April.

rgh wing swallow
One of the Northern Rough-winged Swallows that has been frequenting the Wetlands over the last few months.

I had hoped that they would nest in a crevice or crack in the rock wall which makes up the back of the Black Bear Enclosure, but could not find a nest. These swallows are less colonial than most other swallows and often nest singly in burrows in dirt banks, tree cavities, pipes projecting from buildings, and even in storage trailers behind malls.

On Tuesday morning (6/8) there were several of these long-wing swallows wheeling and dipping overhead and cruising down into the Wetlands, just above the water’s surface. Later that day, I heard what was the unmistakable begging call of a juvenile, in rough-winged swallow language, high up in the trees. Looking up, I noticed that there was one perched high up in a Tulip Poplar, the parents circling above. One parent landed next to the young bird and stuffed something into the youngster’s mouth.

Another view of a N. Rough-winged Swallow.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows have obviously nested somewhere nearby. Have they nested in the Black Bear Enclosure and I’ve simply not seen them coming and going from their nest hole? Maybe, but there are plenty of other locations for these birds to have nested. I will be more vigilant next year.

4 responses to A Strange Nest, a Typical Nest, a Flycatcher, and a Swallow

  1. Leslie A says:

    Courtney saw an Eastern Towhee nest in the bush to the left of the door going outside from the Play to Learn area. We took a peek at the four little chicks and watched mom and dad taking turns feeding for awhile! Lots of activity. They seem to be pretty comfortable w/ people to be nesting right by the door.

    • Greg Dodge, Ranger says:

      Thanks Leslie, I didn’t know about that nest. I’ll have to take a peek myself (discreetly of course). I haven’t checked on the Brown Thrasher (the one in the post) in a while but I saw her quickly fly in and out of the shrub the nest was in just this morning, probably has young in the nest!

  2. Sherry Samuels says:

    Some wrens built nests in the lid of the propane tank at bears as well as above a light fixture at bears.
    The air cannon seems much more daring

    • Greg Dodge, Ranger says:

      Wrens built a nest in the lid of my propane tank at home!

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