Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Bird nesting season: Only the fast and the furious need apply

These baby robins are about two days away from leaving the nest cup. (Photos by Sharon Stiteler)

People are always so excited for spring migration as birds return north to their breeding territories. It’s all fun and games to know that birds are raising their families … until a bird builds a nest in an inconvenient spot on your home or in your yard.

June is when I’m kept busy through email and social media with questions about a new bird nest and a person who wants it gone immediately. The crazy thing is that bird nesting is a relatively short period, especially if you find a nest with baby birds. Many bird species nesting cycles are less than a month long, including incubation. So depending on the state that you find the hatchlings in, they could be a week away from being out of your hair.

Cardinal chicks can be out of the nest following their parents 13 days after hatching.

Consider some of the most common birds we see in our yards and how fast they raise a family. The American robin incubates eggs for 12 to 14 days and the young leave the nest about 13 days after hatching. Northern cardinals also have a quick turnaround with 11 to 13 days of incubating eggs, and the young can leave the nest as early as seven days but usually leave around 12 to 13 days. Those lovely house finches that like to build nests in hanging plant baskets and decorative leaves will incubate for 13 days, and the young will leave at about 14 days. In general, a nest lasts about a month and this quick turnover of young is what makes it possible for birds like cardinals and robins to raise two or three batches of young over the summer.

Some birds take a bit longer. Barn swallows make mud nests under the eaves of houses, and their incubation period can run close to 17 days and the young may stay for up to 25 days. Though they may leave a bit of a mess, the upside is that they only eat insects and can be great pest control. Mallards also incubate for a long time, anywhere from 23 to 27 days. Their chicks, however, leave the nest a few hours after hatching so it’s about the equivalent of most songbirds.

If you find a bird nesting on your home or in your plants, it’s best to leave them alone and just wait it out. They’ll move along soon. And when the young leave the nest cup, it’s OK to remove it.

Keep in mind that when the young first leave, they’re not perfect fliers. They need a solid two days figuring out how wings and wind work together. Don’t worry about interfering unless they are in immediate danger of attack by a cat. Once the young are out of the nest, it’s safe to remove it, even if they left that morning. Once baby birds discover the world outside of the nest cup, they don’t return.

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