Nests are built almost entirely of natural elements: twigs, mud, grass, moss, plant fibers, fur, and feathers, for example. Ruby-throated hummingbirds also use spider webs. Blue grosbeaks have been known to weave snakeskins into their nests. *Shudder* The builders are limited to things light enough and small enough to carry in their beaks. The nest must be strong enough to withstand wind and be waterproof against rain, yet large enough for an entire family! It will take a bird hundreds or perhaps even thousands of back-and-forth trips to complete a nest. I have seen a couple of hawks build a nest before, flying back and forth and back and forth, and I believe it.
Birds build several kinds of nests, each species seeming to home in on one specialty. A platform nest is, as you might guess, large and mainly flat with only a small depression in the middle to hold the eggs and later the baby birds. A platform nest can be built on the ground, in the water, on cliffs, bridges, and balconies. The platform gives young birds a "playground" and parents a "landing strip." Many waterfowl and birds of prey use platform nests.
A cup nest is a variation of the platform nest, built around a platform which is attached to the sides of trees, or shrubs, or cliffs, or even on the ground. This is the type of nest most commonly featured in drawings and 75% of all songbirds use it.
Probably the simplest type of nest is a ground nest, which is simply a depression scraped out of the ground. It contains no other materials, and is probably the least safe nest there is. Killdeer use them, along with another species or two, but apparently not many.
A cavity nest is a hole, usually excavated in the trunk or limb of a tree. Bluebirds and woodpeckers are among those who prefer this type of nest. A small hole leads to a chamber that can be as large as 10 inches across. It may be the most well-sheltered nest-type there is. Bluebird boxes obviously mimic this type of nest.
A pendulous nest looks like a small sack hanging from a tree—or perhaps a scruffy, well-worn sock. It seems to be the safest from predators because it is attached to the ends of very small branches that large predators cannot safely maneuver. These nests give their occupants a wild ride whenever the wind blows, though. They are woven from plant fibers and lined with grass, with a small hole in the side to give parents access to the babies. Orioles, kinglets, and some tropical birds prefer this type of home.*
Wrens are noted for their speedy and creative nest-building. They prefer a cavity nest, but will nest in any type of cavity they can find that is left alone long enough—sometimes as little as one afternoon. We have found them in old coffee cans that we use for feed—once a day--which leaves them untouched for nearly 24 hours, plenty of time for an industrious wren to lay claim to one. We have found wrens' nests tucked into the bumper of the truck. We have found them between an upside down broom brush and the ceiling of the carport. One time we found one in the rain gutter. As soon as we saw it and saw that the eggs had not yet been laid, we moved it. We were not being mean to the bird, but trying to save the future babies from drowning—during nesting season it rains here nearly every afternoon, not just calm drizzles, but gullywashers.
Through all this I can't help but think of that old saying which, I found out recently in a women's class, many of those under 40 have never heard: you can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.
I hate to say this, but folks, we have become a bit Pharisaical about more than a few things. One of them is our definition of sin. A young man told me once that before his conversion he lived a wild life. Even after several years he still had trouble with temptation. But some older Christians had told him that if he was tempted at all, he was sinning! He shouldn't even have a desire to sin. He said they looked down on him as if he were less a Christian than they simply because he had to overcome more often. I could say a sharp thing or two about that, like maybe they aren't tempted anymore because the Devil knows he already has them. But probably what is going on is a failure to understand the meanings of words. If you don't want to do something, or don't like something, no one can tempt you with it. If you don't like chocolate, for example, (yes, there are some alien creatures like that out there), no one can tempt you off your diet with a chocolate cake, now can they? That is pure logic. So yes, temptation means you want to do something.
So what does that have to do with birds and their nests? Thoughts will fly through your mind now and again, perhaps more often in your early walk or during times of stress. What did you do with that thought? Did you shoo it away like a wren who is building her nest in a dangerous place? Or did you sit there and meditate on it, chew on it, run it around in your mind again and again until it "conceived" into a bad fantasy, or bad words, or even a bad action? In one case the bird flew over your head and you recognized the danger there and refused to think of it again—you were tempted, but temptation is not a sin; it never conceived. In the other case, you let that bird land long enough to build not just a nest but a downright mansion in your hair—you were tempted and you gave into that temptation and let it become sin in some fashion or the other.
Please, people, do not mistake temptation for sin. You will wind up living a miserable life with no hope because the Devil sends those birds out, not just one dove and one raven like Noah, but droves of them every day, trying to steal you from the Lord. When you realize just how many times you have succeeded in driving out those birds, not giving in to the sin, you will become stronger and stronger and even more determined to drive them away. How many have you swatted at just today? See how many sins you have avoided? Good for you! Don't let those birds make a nest in your hair. And don't let someone else tell you that because you are tempted you are less a Christian than they. In fact, by discouraging "even one of these little ones," I would say that they are the ones who need to worry.
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (Jas 1:14-15).
Blessed is the man that endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him. (Jas 1:12).
*All the bird information in this article is from a book called Birds of Florida—Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. He has many state-specific Field Guides, and if you enjoy watching the birds in your yard, you can probably find one for your state. They are available online.