Ground Nesting Robins?

Walking the prairies this morning, I found a bird’s nest on the ground.  That would have been fun, but not really newsworthy, except that it appeared to be a robin’s nest.  I can’t think of any other bird species around that lays blue eggs in open cup nests except dickcissels, and dickcissels haven’t arrived yet this spring.  I think the eggs were too big for bluebirds, and both bluebirds and starlings lay blue eggs in nests placed in tree cavities (or nesting boxes).  In addition, there was a robin hanging around the area…

A robin nest (?) on the ground in a burned/grazed portion of our Platte River Prairies.

I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s happened, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a robin nest on the ground.  Maybe our efforts to keep trees from encroaching on our prairies have been so successful that robins can’t find trees to nest in?  

…That’s definitely not the case, though it was ironic that the nest was placed right at the base of a small Siberian elm tree that had been top-killed by a prescribed fire this spring.   I’m not sure what the bird’s actual rationale was for nesting on the ground, but I wish it luck.

A punctured egg a few feet away from the nest.

Unfortunately for the robins, it looks like I wasn’t the first to find the nest.  A few feet away from the nest I also found an egg that had apparently been removed from the nest  – and it had a hole punched in it.  Cowbird, maybe?

About these ads

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
This entry was posted in General, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Ground Nesting Robins?

  1. George W. Shurr says:

    How weird—I also just saw a blue egg out in a paddock away from trees. It looked like a robin’s egg, but it seemed out of place. I just assumed it had been moved by a predator, but maybe there’s something else going on since you found the actual nest?

    • Jim Fiedler, Rome, IN says:

      Cornell Lab or Ornithology says

      “Nest Placement
      Tree
      Female robins choose the nest sites, which are typically on one or several horizontal branches hidden in or just below a layer of dense leaves. Nests are typically in the lower half of a tree, although they can be built as high as the treetop. American Robins also nest in gutters, eaves, on outdoor light fixtures, and other structures. In western prairies, American Robins may build their nests on the ground or in thickets, while in Alaska they sometimes nest on buildings or cliffs.

  2. No mud lining. Perhaps that is optional for prairie robins.

  3. I would go with red-winged blackbird. My best guess and would fit the habitat/placement. Robins would not have the black dots and scrolls.

  4. I might add…blackbirds have an amazing amount of variation in egg color. We did a project in the Rainwater Basin a few years ago, and some have a lot of black scrolls and dots while others are almost robin-like. The blue varies from almost white to deep robin-like blue. Do a quick google image search on red-winged blackbird nest and you will see quite a variety of colors! It may not seem as sexy as the possible-robin, but they are actually darn cool birds.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      I won’t argue with you on the red-winged blackbird, but this was in a recently burned patch with very little vegetation structure. Doesn’t seem like the kind of place a blackbird would nest either? I’ll have to do some spying and see if I can see the bird on the nest…

    • Chris Helzer says:

      I’m not sure I’m seeing the dark spots, scrollwork designs you’re seeing. If you click on the photos to see bigger, clearer, images, it looks like the dark spots are really dirt and/or water droplets?

  5. Karen Hamburger says:

    Chris

    Look at the nest …its not a robins nest…..there isnt any mud holding it together. Robins use lots of mud!

    Karen

  6. Jim Fiedler, Rome, IN says:

    You should have no problem seeing both the parents once the eggs hatch (hopefully they will make it) since both constantly feed them. But I just found out last week with a quick google search that Robins fledge and leave the nest in 2 weeks after hatching. I thought my robin nest had been robbed until I learned how quickly they are gone. Just as a side note, I used to raise money for The Nature Conservancy 15 or 20 years ago by participating as an enthusiastic although not an expert group the NJ World Series of Birding. My group of 3 or 4 oil industry birders called ourselves “The Oil Slicks” and were more successful in obtaining pledges than finding more than around 160 birds in the 24 hour marathon. The official Nature Conservancy team would always have more than 200 birds and would finish in the top few teams. Fond memories.

  7. anastaciast says:

    Have you found out who the nest belongs to yet? From the photos, the colors of the eggs make me think of Starlings.

  8. anastaciast says:

    I don’t mean to sound rude, but I looked around online at a lot of Starling nests, and this looks like one to me. No mud and the eggs are a darker blue than Robins. They have fooled me before. Kevin Poague would know.

    • James C. Trager says:

      Hmmm – A starling’s nest that’s not in a cavity – Seems even wierder than a robin’s nest on the ground.

      • anastaciast says:

        Hi James, I don’t know if you live in Nebraska, but cavities are hard to come by. :) Darn weed birds, anyway.

  9. Tim Lyons says:

    There is a graduate student here at the University of Illinois studying birds nesting in ag fields, and she has found a fair number of Robin nests on the ground within corn stubble, so it doesn’t seem all that unusual to me I guess. Though in her case, all the nests had a substantial amount of mud worked into them.

  10. diane says:

    Lark bunting?

  11. Emily Hutchins says:

    Hi, Chris. It looks like it may be a Gray Catbird nest. Their eggs are typically a deeper blue than American Robins’ eggs. I also agree that Robins’ nest cup is made with mud, and this one doesn’t seem to have much of any.

  12. Lauren says:

    It might be a Cowbird like you said. We have an exact nest like that nesting in our snap peas, and the mother goes crazy whenever I come to pick. But the eggs are exactly like that, blue with speckles. This is just a guesstimate, though.

  13. Found this thread because we have a Robin’s nest on the ground at the base of an old Sassafras tree (20 inch diameter trunk) located about 25 feet behind our kitchen window. We live in a suburb just north of Philadelphia, Pa. Initially, we wondered why we had a Robin hanging out at the base of the tree, Then one day we noticed 4 blue eggs in a nest. Seemed unusual to us to build the nest on the ground. It’s been ten days and mom is sitting on the eggs night and day except when she leaves briefly to feed herself. Infrequently another Robin (likely Dad) stops by to feed her. So far no predator has gotten to the eggs. We are hoping that this continues since we have Domestic Cats, Opossums, Racoons, Groundhogs, Black Snakes and many other species of birds frequenting our property. We have photos of the nest and eggs and hope to take shots of the young Robins if things go well. We have lived here for 45 years and have not previously experienced a Robin’s nest on the ground.

  14. Terri says:

    We have a robin that laid her eggs on the ground, right in front of the garage service door. She didn’t build any nest, she just laid the eggs right on the flat ground, one a day. Once their were 2 eggs, I had my husband put up a fence around the eggs so our cat couldn’t get to the robin sitting on her eggs. Their are 3 eggs and the robin sits on them all the time. If the eggs hatch, they should be hatching this week. How are the babies going to stay in one place when their is no nest? Can I do anything to help? Like putting nesting material in a bowl and putting the eggs in there before they hatch? I don’t know why she didn’t build a nest and just laid her eggs on the ground, maybe she’s lazy or maybe not too smart???

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Terri – Interesting. I think I would leave the “nest” alone and see how the robins handle things. Maybe they’ve had good luck with a similar strategy in the past?

  15. MEGAN WINSTEAD says:

    I live in Oregon , by a Hazel nut orchard. I have found about 7 nests on the ground here and there through out this last week. They are made with a mud base , then regular nest materials inside. I thought the nests were falling out of the trees because there hasnt been any eggs in them. I picked up a few and put them up in the tree , but none have any new eggs in them still. The orchard has alot of Robins living in it , so i assume they are robin’s nests. Why would they build on the ground? Is July the nesting season for robins in the North West?

PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s