How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest?

How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest? Interesting Facts

We have all seen birds building or living in nests – but have you ever wondered how long do birds take to build a nest? We will try to answer this question in the article below. 

Watching a bird build its nest on the top of a tree can be a mesmerizing sight. A bird’s nest requires a sturdy framework and structure because, most of the time, it will be the site where the bird family will live till the babies learn to fly. 

How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


A well-known study observed that birds learn the art of building nests (they are not born with it). It requires skill, dedication, and a lot of time to make them. 

Birds use their beaks to do the job, and it takes them somewhere between 2-3 days and two weeks, or more, to complete a typical bird nest.

Factors like weather, bird species, and ease of finding nesting material also affect the timeline of building a nest, among other things. 

In this article, we will discuss how long most birds take to build a nest. 

Different Bird Species and the Time They Take To Build a Nest

Bird species vary in the time it may take them to build a nest, with some birds such as the penduline tit and bushtits taking more than a month to do their job. 

However, on average, you might say that most birds take between 2 days to 2 weeks. The time frame can vary due to external factors (which we will discuss later in this article). 

The chart below shows the time frame for some common garden birds to build a nest. 

  1. Sparrows – About 2 days
  2. Eastern Bluebird – 2-3 days 
  3. American Goldfinch – 5 days 
  4. House Wren – About a week 
  5. European Robin – A week or so
  6. European Starling – 14 weeks 
  7. Barn Swallow – Two weeks or 21 days 


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


What Factors Affect the Time It Takes To Build a Bird’s Nest?

There are several things that can affect how quickly a bird makes its nest.

For example, how easily the material is available, how complex the nest is, which season it is being made in, why it is being built (is it just a showpiece for the female or an actual nesting site), and all impact.

Let’s go through some of these below.

The complexity of the nest 

When building a nest, each bird has its technique and design. For example, Barn Swallows use mud to build their nest, while Bluebirds use no soil. 

In the same way, many female birds build the nest while their male counterparts guard it.

No two nests are the same because they come with different structures and complexities, affecting their timeline. Some of the most elaborate bird nests may take up to several weeks for completion.

Seasonal changes  

Birds in a warmer climate will build their nest quicker than those in cold weather. Colder temperature requires the bird to create a more sheltered and insulated nest. 

In windy places, the nest has to be more robust because the wind can blow away the entire hard work of the bird. 

For example, a tree swallow can quickly design and build its nest in summer because the material (grass, straws, etc.) is readily available.

However, it gets difficult to find all these things in the winter, so they take longer to build their nests in that season.


File:Satin Bowerbird nest.jpg
Source: SummCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Why is the bird building its nest?

Many people think that birds build nests only to keep their clutch of eggs when the reality is quite different.

Many birds indeed build a nest for breeding, incubation, and hatching, but many a time, it is also made for other reasons, like courtship.

In fact, in many species, such as bowerbirds, baya weavers, and tits, the male bird creates a beautiful nest simply to attract the female bird.

Such nests are often artistically created and carefully crafted (because they are exhibition pieces, after all), so it takes longer to build them.

Nest-building experience 

It is a common notion that birds build nests by instinct. However, studies have shown that this is not the case.

For example, in a study involving African village weaverbirds, the researchers found that it took three months of steady practice for young males to build a good nest.

Like human beings, the more experienced the bird is, the better it is in collecting materials. Moreover, experience also sharpens their skills to do intricate weaving and other aspects of nest building.  

Experience brings efficiency and an eye to know which material works better and in what condition. Therefore, older birds usually build nests much faster than younger ones. 


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


Building a new nest or restoring an old one 

Not all nests are made from scratch. Many birds, such as eagles and herons, like to reuse old nests (built either by them or by other birds). If building from scratch, it usually takes the bird longer. 

Do Males and Females Both Build Nests?

It depends on the bird species building the nest. In some cases, both male and female adults build a nest. However, in most cases, it is the female doing the job.


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


What Are the Different Types of Nests?

Bird nests come in all shapes and sizes. There is no rule about what a nest should look like and what material should be used for building it. 

Some birds (most famously the cuckoo) don’t even make a nest – they just lay their eggs in the nests of other birds

Some other birds (such as wading birds and waterfowl) don’t build a nest on a tree; they just dig a hole in the ground and lay their eggs in it. 

Let’s look at some of the basic categorizations of nests:

Simple nests 

Simple nests (cup-shaped ones) are the typical no-effort nests that you may often come across on trees and on roofs. They are usually built from twigs, grass, straws, leaves, fur, mosses, plant materials, and feathers. Most birds can lay eggs in this type of nest. 


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


Small nests 

The tinier the bird, the smaller its nest must be. For example, a hummingbird would require a nest smaller than an eagle’s. Most hummingbird nests are just an inch across and an inch wide.

Small nests are flexible, meaning that the bird can use grass and twigs or spider web and soft materials to build their nests. On the other hand, larger nests take time and effort to build because collecting materials is harder. 

Floating nests 

These nests are usually found near water bodies and are housed by waterfowl or waders that like to stay near water. 

The material used is usually mud, reeds, mosses, and other aquatic plants. Floating nests are generally hidden with the help of foliage to avoid the eyes of fish and other marine animals. 


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


Underground nests

Some birds, including kingfishers, burrowing owls, swallows, and several other birds, lay their eggs in ground holes. They dig a hole of about 2 feet, like a burrow, and lay their eggs there. Swallows sometimes build a tunnel-like den, which can go as deep as 5 feet. 

Elaborate nests 

The hanging nest built by the penduline tits is a prime example of an elaborate nest. 

Made from horsehair, twines, long grass, and thickly lined with feathers, plant fiber, wool, and similar material, elaborate nests are often used throughout the year (both summer and winter time). 

Not All Birds Build Nests

While most birds build nests for laying eggs, many of them don’t build nests at all. So, how do they survive? They put their eggs in other birds’ nests or steal someone else’s nest. Let’s discuss more on this below. 

Birds who steal nests 

Many birds, like house sparrows, would rather rob other birds of their nests, killing their babies and dumping their eggs instead of building their own. They even steal nest materials and the other birds’ food.

Brood Parasites

The caramel-colored cowbird from North America is an example of brood parasitism. These birds leave their eggs in other birds’ nests. They escape their responsibility as a parent! 

Brood parasites fool other birds to help rear and hatch their eggs. The host, by will or force, raises the child as their own even if it belongs to the brood parasite. 

Birds with zero or no nesting ground

Many birds, like night jars and short-eared owls, choose to lay eggs on the ground and in plants, respectively, and do not need any nests. 


How Long Do Birds Take To Build A Nest


Frequently Asked Questions

How fast can a bird build a nest and lay eggs?

It usually takes two days to two weeks for a bird to build a nest, while the incubation period lasts between 14 to 23 days.

Is there a way to know whether birds will build a nest?

If you see a bird carrying twigs, grass, leaves, feathers, mosses, and even wool towards a tree branch, it will build a nest. Another indication is if you see a bird is flying to a particular spot repeatedly. 

Do birds build nests at night?

It depends; some birds may build nests at night while others may do the work during the day. Most birds don’t actually sleep in the nests that they make, so if they are nocturnal, they might be building the nest at night as well.

Do birds build nests before mating?

It depends on the species of bird. Many male birds, like red-winged blackbirds, carry nesting materials to build a nest and attract their female counterpart for courtship, while other birds do not require any such mating rituals. 

Wrapping up

We hope this article answers your question about the timeline related to various birds building nests.

You cannot put the finger on how long a bird will take to build a nest, but surely, you can expect that they would put their best into the task. 

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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