Jul 24 2008
Two weeks ago Chuck Tague sent me photos of a red-eyed vireo’s nest and a baby bird quietly resting in it. The vireo’s nesting season is nearly over so you may not see these wonders now, but I couldn’t resist writing about them as they’re such a great illustration of the energy a small bird puts into nesting.
The red-eyed vireo suspends her nest from the fork of a thin horizontal branch. Though she hides it in a leafy place, she often builds it only 5-10 feet off the ground so it’s possible to encounter it at eye level. The nest is 2.75 to 3 inches in diameter – so small you could hold it in the palm of your hand.
The female builds the nest alone in only five days using spider webs to attach it to the branches and hold it all together. She uses bark, grasses and thin paperlike substances and lines the inside with finer material such as pine needles and animal hair. Sometimes she decorates the outside with lichens.
All of this work is done for only one purpose – to provide a safe, hidden bed for her babies.
Three to five days after she finishes construction she lays 2-4 eggs, one egg per day, and incubates them alone. In 12-14 days they hatch. She and her mate both feed the nestlings; ten to twelve days later they fledge.
As soon as the babies leave the nest it is never used again. It is truly a babies’ crib, not a permanent home.
Sadly, brown-headed cowbirds sometimes find the vireo’s nest and force her to raise their young instead of her own. I’m happy to see Chuck found a baby red-eyed vireo in this nest and not a cowbird. This mother’s work was not in vain.
(photos by Chuck Tague)