Home Sweet Home

Would you rather live in a high rise condo, a house built over the water, or camp on the ground gazing at the stars overhead?  It is amazing that birds use such a variety of locations and construction methods to build their homes.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow homes are like high rise condos for birds.  They like to build their nests out of mud high on a building.  You may see them on barn beams or above outdoor light fixtures on homes. Barn Swallows gather mud pellets in their beaks.  They add their saliva to the pellet and carry it to their nesting site. Barn Swallows vibrate their heads as they apply a new wet pellet to the drier structure.  This distributes moisture and molds the new pellet onto the nest in progress.  They may use up to 1,500 pellets to build their cup shaped nest.  Adding grass contributes to the durability of the nest.[1]  After multiple trips to get a beak full of mud, I’m sure they work up an appetite.  One of their favorite foods is aerial insects.

Juvelnile Forester's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Forster’s Tern

Another bird that enjoys aerial insects is the Forster’s Tern.  They also plunge-dive for fish to eat.   Their nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground.  The lack of construction leaves them more time to go fishing.

American Bittern at the Horicon Marsh

American Bittern

The American Bittern builds its nest piling up cattails and sticks making a thick platform a few inches above the water.  Nests are 10 to 16 inches across and may rest on a small mound on the ground.[2]  Bitterns usually stand among the cattails with their beaks pointed in the air so they blend in to the vegetation.  I almost drove right by this one.  When he was ready for dinner, he started looking at the water and swayed his head side to side.  Was he trying to lull his dinner into thinking life was good in the marsh muck?  Then, with lightning speed, he plunged his head in the water and plucked a frog from the mud.

If you disturb a bird’s home, you will ruffle his feathers.

Juvenile Forster's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

He will not be happy with you.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

Whether it’s high, low, or somewhere in between respect a bird’s nest wherever you find one. It’s their home sweet home.


[1] Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture (Princeton and Oxford:  Princeton University Press, 2011), 84.

[2] John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh:  Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA:  Stackpole Books, 1999), 211.

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