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The elaborate bird nest of a baya weaver
A night heron building a nest
Swans with nest and eggs at Lake Constance
A dusky woodswallow parent feeding chicks in a nest at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania, Australia.

A nest is a structure built for certain animals to hold

eggs or young. Although nests are most closely associated with birds, members of all classes of vertebrates and some invertebrates construct nests. They may be composed of organic material such as twigs, grass, and leaves, or may be a simple depression in the ground, or a hole in a rock, tree, or building. Human-made materials, such as string, plastic, cloth, or paper, may also be used. Nests can be found in all types of habitat

Nest building is driven by a biological urge known as the

social insects
can host millions of individuals.

Nest building

Purposes of nesting

Structural purposes

Nest building (nidification) is often driven by a biological urge in

ocean currents. In some cases, nests also help provide safety in numbers for egg-laying animals.[1]

A pair of ospreys building a nest.

Social purposes

Many nest builders provide parental care to their young, while others simply lay their eggs and leave.

social insects while building extensive burrows that house hundreds of individuals.[2]

Usage of environment

Versatility in use of construction material may be an adaptive advantage (less energy used to gather materials) or a disadvantage (less ability to specialize construction). The available evidence suggests that natural selection more often favors specialization over flexibility in nest construction.[2][why?]

At the most basic level, there are only two types of nest building: sculpting and assembly.


Sculpting is the process of removing material to achieve the desired outcome. Most commonly this entails burrowing into the ground or plant matter to create a nesting site.


Assembly entails gathering, transporting, and arranging materials to create a novel structure. Transportation has the greatest time and energy cost so animals are usually adapted to build with materials available in their immediate environment.

Building materials

from the animal's body.

Effects on environment

Nest building can have a substantial impact on the environment in which animals live. The combined


Lasting effects

Nests constructed by

anthropological features by professionals, due to their exceptional height (10 metres [33 ft]) and abundance (hundreds in a single location).[2]

Nest builders

Hundreds of honeybees gather on their honeycomb nest
Arboreal stingless bee nest in Guatemala

Nest architecture may be as useful for distinguishing species as the animals' physical appearance. Species identified through such means are called ethospecies. This is especially common in wasps and termites, but also can apply to birds. In most animals, there is some variation in nest construction between individuals. Whether these differences are driven by genetics or learned behavior is unknown.[2]

With the exception of a few tunneling mammals, nest builders exhibit no specialized anatomy, instead making use of body parts primarily used for other purposes. This is possibly due to the sporadic nature of nest building, minimizing the selective pressures of anatomy used for nest building.[2]


In general, birds are the most skilled nest builders, although not all species of birds build nests, some laying their

eggs directly onto rock ledges or bare soil without first modifying the area. Complex nest building is considered to be one of the key adaptive advantages of birds.[1] Nests help regulate temperature and reduce predation risks, thus increasing the chance that offspring live to adulthood.[2]

Bird nests vary from simple depressions in the ground known as scrapes to largely unstructured collections of branches to elaborately woven pendants or spheres. The

shorebirds. The weavers exhibit perhaps the most elaborate nests, complete with strands of grass tied into knots. Most bird nests lie somewhere in the middle, with the majority building cup-shaped nests using some combination of mud, twigs and leaves, and feathers. Some birds, such flamingos and swifts, use saliva to help hold their nest together. The edible-nest swiftlet uses saliva alone to construct their nests.[3] The rufous hornero nest is composed entirely of mud and feces, which is placed on tree branches to allow the sun to harden it into a usable structure.[4] The tailorbirds stitch together leaves to provide cover for their nest sites.[1]

A single nesting colony of the sociable weaver may house hundreds of individuals

The sociable weaver builds large communal nests in which many individual nests reside. They divide the nest using walls of grass placed atop a base of large sticks. At the entrances to the nest, sharp sticks are placed to ward off intruders.[4] A single communal site can measure 2 metres (6.6 ft) in height and 8 metres (26 ft) in width. As many as 300 mating pairs may reside in the structure.[5] Other birds often built their own nests on top of Weaver nest sites.[4]

Some birds build nests in

bushtit and Bullock's oriole will suspend their nests from the tips of slender branches.[1] The oropendolas take hanging nests to the extreme, constructing pouches up to 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) tall using hanging vines as their base.[1][4] The hanging nest is attached to thin tree branches, discouraging predation.[4] Other species seek out crevices, using buildings or birdhouses when tree holes are not available.[1]

Typical bird nests range from 2 centimetres (0.79 in) in size (

Sylviornis neocaledoniae may have constructed nesting mounds 50 metres (160 ft) in diameter.[2]


Pongo pygmaeus
) in its nest

Many species of small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and ground squirrels dig burrows into the ground to protect themselves and their young.[7] Prairie dogs build an elaborate system of tunnels which can span large stretches of land. One such structure, called a town, spanned 25,000 square miles (65,000 km2) and held an estimated 400 million individuals. Their homes are adapted to withstand large (above-ground) temperature variation, floods, and fire. Their young are raised in the deepest chambers where the temperature is the most stable.[4]

Many mammals, including

duck-billed platypus and the echidna lay eggs in nests.[3]

Gorillas build fresh nests daily out of leaves and other vegetation in which they sleep at night. They sometimes also build nests during the day for resting in. The smaller species of gorilla build their nests in trees, while the larger are confined to the ground. Nests of the western gorilla, the largest species, measure about 1 metre (3.3 ft) in diameter.[8]


Paradise fish begin to hatch from a bubble nest.

Some species of frog build nests ranging from simple to modest complexity.[3] Many stream-dwelling frogs lay their eggs in a gelatinous mass which they attach to underwater vegetation to prevent eggs from washing away.[1] Nests can have other protective qualities. For example, the female Fletcher frog beats secreted mucus into a froth, creating a structure that serves as a line of defense against thermal extremes, predation, and desiccation.


Fish engage in nest building activities ranging from simply scooping out sediment to building enclosed structures out of plant matter. Male sticklebacks produce a special enzyme in their kidneys that they use to bind plants together.[3]


The American alligator is known for its parenting skills. They build large nests of mud and vegetation on river banks or vegetation mats. The female digs a hole in the center to lay her eggs, covers them, and then guards them for two months until they hatch. When eggs start to hatch, she breaks open the nest which has hardened over time and leads the young to the water where she continues to care for them for another year. Alligators are very particular about their nesting sites and will abandon a site if things go wrong.[1]

Cobras use leaves and other debris to build nests in which they lay eggs that both sexes guard. They carry the vegetation to the nest site by kinking their necks.[3] Sea turtles dig a hole in the sand above the high tide line in which they lay their eggs. They then cover the soft eggs to protect them from the sun and predators and leave.[1]


From the fossil record, it is known that many, or perhaps all, dinosaurs laid eggs. Paleontologists have identified a number of features that allow them to distinguish a nesting site from a random clustering of eggs. Those include regular clustering patterns, the co-occurrence of whole eggs with broken eggs and/or hatchlings, and the occurrence of physical features such as evidence of excavation.[1]

Maiasaura probably exhibited great amounts of parental care.

The Oviraptor nests of Mongolia are perhaps the most famous case of dinosaur nesting. One specimen was found fossilized atop a nest in a brooding posture, proving the animal had been poorly named (Oviraptor means "egg taker").[1]

A site known as

Egg Mountain in Montana provides exceptional evidence of dinosaur nesting behavior. The site features dozens of nests each with 20 or more eggs belonging to the Maiasaura. Juvenile teeth at the site exhibit signs of wear, while the leg bones are not developed enough to walk. This allowed scientists to conclude that the species provided extensive parental care for its young. It is likely the species covered its nests with sand and vegetation to keep them warm and nested in colonies for increased protection.[1]


Bee nest in the trunk of a spruce

Social insects, including most species of ants, bees, termites, and wasps, are nest builders. Their often elaborate nests may be found above or below ground. Features often include ventilation systems and separate chambers for the queen, her eggs, and developing individuals.[3]

Bees and

Termite nests can extend 5 metres (16 ft) or more in the air.

Termites build elaborate nests that span multiple generations and may last decades.[2] Using chewed wood, mud, and feces they build large mounds which may extend well into the air.[4] The largest nests, built by members of genus Amitermes, stand nearly 7 metres (23 ft) tall with a similar circumference at the base, and host millions of individuals.[2] Termite mounds are constructed to allow for excellent air flow, regulating the mound temperature. The mounds protect against drying and predation allowing many species to lose ancestral traits such as hard bodies, skin pigmentation, and good eyesight. Magnetic termites construct their nests with flattened sides along the north–south axis to ensure maximum warming during the winter, while exposing minimal surface area to the harshest mid-day sunshine.[2] Other termite species use their nests to farm fungi.[4]

Ant nests feature an elaborate colony structure that may extend 2 metres (6.6 ft) or more underground. As the structure gets further underground, individual chambers become farther and farther apart indicating that the ant is aware of its depth. It is hypothesized that they accomplish this by sensing the level of

leaf cutter ant builds a complex nest which can house 8 million individuals. Its nests feature numerous chambers, most notably garden chambers where they farm fungus on leaves they harvest from the forest.[2]

Species such as the

parasites; if the original nest is attacked, surviving members can move the satellite nest.[12] Other species such as the Black hover wasp, Parischnogaster alternata, construct nests in clusters with the central core composed of older colonies surrounded by younger colonies.[14]

The Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica, is unique in that individuals of that species build their nests in wood, bamboo culms, agave stalks, and other similar materials, although their preferred nesting material is pine or cedar lumber. When digging the nests, they use the wood shavings scraped from the wall to create partitions within the tunnels. The nests are usually round and have about 1-4 tunnels, each with multiple branches. Because these materials are often useful for humans in construction, X. virgininica's nesting behavior presents the disadvantage of weakening wood in manmade structures.[15]

Effects on other species

The abundance of biological resources within the nest has led to a number of specialized predators. The

obligate parasitism, is common within the nest. Ant nests alone support symbiotes spanning six classes of arthropods which includes 35 families just from the beetles.[2]

Names of nests

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Tom Deméré; Bradford D. Hollingsworth (Spring 2002). "Nests and Nest-building Animals" (PDF). San Diego Natural History Museum. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ .
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "nest". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on September 30, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mary Beth Griggs (2011-05-26). "8 Amazing Architects of the Animal Kingdom". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on August 13, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Most populous bird's nest". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on August 21, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  6. ^ "Largest bird's nest". Guinness World Records. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d "Mammal Nests and Burrows". Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species. University of Michigan. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  8. ^ "Largest mammal to build a nest". Guinness World Records. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  9. ISSN 1943-0930
  10. ^ Clouse, R. (2001). “Some effects of group size on the output of beginning nests of Mischocyttarus mexicanus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae).” Florida Entomologist. 84(3):418-424.
  11. ^ "Largest wasp nest". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on July 2, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  12. ^
    S2CID 40390603
  13. ^ Jeff Hahn; Colleen Cannon; Mark Ascerno (2008). "Carpenter ants". University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on September 10, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  14. ^ Landi, M., C. Coster-Longman, and S. Turillazzi. "Are the Selfish Herd and the Dilution Effects Important in Promoting Nest Clustering in the Hover Wasp (Stenogastrinae Vespidae Hymenoptera)?" Ethology Ecology & Evolution 14.4 (2002): 297-305. Web.
  15. ^ Balduf, W. V. (1962-05-01). "Life of the Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica (Linn.) (Xylocopidae, Hymenoptera)". Annals of the Entomological Society of America 55 (3): 263–271. doi:10.1093/aesa/55.3.263. ISSN 0013-8746.
  16. ^ "eyrie", The Free Dictionary, retrieved 2020-04-21
  17. ^ "nide", The Free Dictionary, retrieved 2020-04-21
  18. ^ "vespiary", The Free Dictionary, retrieved 2020-04-21

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