Do Birds Return To The Same Nest Every Year?

Do Birds Return To The Same Nest Every Year? Truth Revealed

Should I clean out an old nest near my house, or will its old inhabitants return? Do bids return to the same nest every year? Let’s learn about nesting behavior in birds.

Some birds return to the same spot each year. A few of them return to the same nest as well, depending on their nesting habits

Do birds return to the same nest every year? Or is there a turf war over old nests?


This also depends on how these birds build their nests. Birds that return are known for building stronger and more lasting nests. 

However, most birds prefer to build a new nest each breeding season. 

Do Birds Reuse Their Nests? 

There is a lot of variety in nature about reusing nests.

Some birds use the same nests during every breeding season as part of the breeding process. Many others never reuse nests at all. In fact, they build a new one every season. 

Other birds reuse nests built by someone else. Before using the same nest again, such birds clean it out and add extra twigs and leaves to make the nest more comfortable. 

So you see: there are all types of nest builders. Let’s look at each of them in detail.


Predatory birds, such as hawks and eagles, often reuse their nests or build on the existing nest each season.

These birds usually build large nests, and every year the size of the nest grows bigger because of what they add. 

Part of the reason why they reuse their nests is the size itself. It is difficult for these birds to build such large nests each year from scratch. 

Some birds building atop an existing nest includes the American Crow (commonly seen throughout North America).

These birds tend to either build a new one or might add more material to an existing nest if space for building a new one is sparse.

Some species, such as acorn woodpeckers, also reuse the same nest every year. 

Do birds return to the same nest every year? Or is there a turf war over old nests?


Non Reusers 

Nesting habits depend on the bird species, and most birds do not reuse their nests. It is part of the breeding routine for many birds to build new nests, sometimes in new locations every year. 

Birds that are non-reusers include sparrows and hummingbirds. 

The grasshopper sparrow builds new nests in different locations every breeding season. Hummingbirds usually build new nests because their old nests are not durable enough. 

Do Birds Use Others’ Nests? 

Often, birds that use a nest just once will build it, lay eggs, and then leave once the baby birds have grown. These nests then sit unused till other birds reuse it. 

Woodpecker and other tree cavity nest builders’ nests are often the sites for other birds to come and build their own.

Another bird, the rufous hornero, builds a sturdy mud-based nest that hummingbirds and others reuse later on.

So who reuses these nests? Birds like titmice or chickadees use the nests of other birds. Many migratory birds do the same.

When you look at their nesting habits, one of the most well-known and interesting is that of the cuckoos. Cuckoos are notorious for laying eggs in the nests of other birds (known as brood parasitism)


Do birds return to the same nest every year? Or is there a turf war over old nests?


Are Nests Reused Every Year?   

While not every bird reuses their nests, some birds tend to do so every year. Wrens, bluebirds, and barn swallows do this. Larger birds like herons, eagles, and hawks, too, reuse their nests each year. 

Some birds, like swallows, often return to the same spot to nest (while they may not reuse their own nest). Some, like the Chilean swallow in South America, are migratory birds that wait till autumn and winter to build nests in secondary nests. 

Can You Clean Nesting Boxes After They Are Empty? 

You can clean out a nest box after the baby birds have grown up and flown away.

You can wait till the end of the breeding season or check if the birds are still using the nest before you start cleaning. Most birds will clean nests on their own. 

If you find nests in trees and bushes, there is no need to clean them. The birds will most likely never return, so the nest will decay away on its own after a while. 

Nest boxes are usually familiar breeding territory where birds often return. You need to clean and maintain nest boxes to ensure that there are no parasites or fleas that can infect baby birds in the next season.  

Do birds return to the same nest every year? Or is there a turf war over old nests?


Frequently Asked Questions 


Do birds nest twice? 

There are some species of birds, especially migratory birds, that nest twice every year. American Robins are also famous for abandoning their nests and building a new one at the slightest sign of danger.

Should you remove old bird nests?

You should only remove old bird nests after the nesting season has passed and there are no bird eggs or fledglings in the nest. 
But if the birds return to the same nest yearly, you shouldn’t remove them. If you have a nest box, you can clean it for them to reuse.  

Do robins return to the same nest every year?

Robins tend to return to the same nest locations every year. They may not reuse the old nest but will build a new nest in that same area or tree. 

Do mother birds sleep in the nest with their babies? 

Mother birds only sleep in the same nest with their babies for the first few days after the eggs have hatched. Soon, the mother birds will leave their brood
They will only continue to sleep in the same nest if the temperatures are too cold and the baby birds have not yet grown their feathers. In this case, some birds will protect their young with their feathers.


Wrap Up 

There is much diversity in the way birds use their nests. Some reuse old nests when they find their ideal habitat; others reuse nests made by someone else. And then many will start building a new one with every breeding season. 

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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