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?

31 thoughts on “Ground Nesting Robins?

  1. 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?

    • Cornell Lab or Ornithology says

      “Nest Placement
      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. 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.

    • 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…

    • 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?

  3. Chris

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


  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

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

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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???

    • 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?

  12. 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?

  13. I live in Lubbock Texas, I noticed a blue egg under my evergreen bush but yesterday was Easter so I thought it was a candy egg and left it for the ants,, well today my mom saw a bird lay the same blue egg so now there’s 2 blue eggs. Is that normal for a Robin to lay eggs on bare ground?? Would they survive?? Are they just abandoned eggs??

    • Sara – I would strongly suggest that you just wait and watch to see what happens. While robins do typically nest off the ground, they apparently choose the ground sometimes, and if she’s laying the eggs I bet she’s planning to take care of them too. It might turn out to be a great opportunity to watch the event first hand! Good luck to you and the birds!

  14. Robins do nest on the ground. East bound I-70 rest area, mile post 224, Ellsworth, KS. Nest just 3′ from asphalt in truck parking area. Was eating lunch and noticed two Robins kept walking up a grassy slope and spending time. Got out binoculars and bingo, three baby mouths pointed skywards. I have pictures but could not find a way to post them here. Simply amazing that, right there, where someone could step on it and completely out in the open, those babies got to the size they were, May 27, 2015. At this posting, if they made it, they should be off on their own.

  15. We have robins successfully nesting next to a basement window on our civil war-era farmhouse. Last year they wouldn’t have been successful because our very old cat would have found them. Unfortunately, the cat died last fall – fortunately for these robins, whose eggs have hatched and baby birds have their mouths open awaiting parental feedings all day long. This is northern Illinois, but with prairie grass here on our property, which is surrounded by farmland.

    • update: Today we found a very large garter snake sleeping off his big meal. All three babies are gone, and the parents are spitting mad (with grief?). We chased off the snake. I hope the birds don’t lay more eggs in such a vulnerable spot.

  16. We found a Robin’s nest on the ground yesterday in the Little Belt Mountains in Montana.on a pruned fir tree branch. Mother bird feeding three nestlings. Possible the nest fell with the branch except it was perfecty centered amid the branches.


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