Nests are not Homes

While these robin chicks are young and helpless, the nest serves as an essential rearing area. However, once they fledge, they will quickly abandon the nest, never to return.

As we returned home around noon on Sunday, an enormous bird landed in a tree in front of our house. As we watched in amazement, another huge bird, this time easily recognizable as a great gray owl, landed next to the first bird and gave it a small rodent. It was clear that this was a female and her offspring. As we shut down the engine and rolled the windows down, we could hear two other young owls as they made their food begging cry, letting mom know that they wanted to be fed too.

This unique show continued until the youngsters, nearly as big as their mother, slowly moved on, likely following the adult as she hunted. Early in the summer we had seen a great gray owl and I wondered if this was the same owl, now with a growing family far from their fledgling nest.

I also thought about a conversation I overheard between a young lady and her small children as she explained to them that a bird’s nest is its home and it spends the summer there. I didn’t correct her, but these owls were evidence enough that birds don’t have the same concept of home that we do.

For nearly all birds, nests serve two purposes—a place to lay eggs is universal. However, there are many birds whose precocial chicks hatch ready to take on the world and will leave the nest forever within 24 hours. It is common for these nests to be more rudimentary, sometimes nothing more than a bit of grass or a few feathers.

For altricial nestlings, those that hatch naked, blind and helpless, the nest has more purpose—a safe place for them to grow and mature— and is usually a more elaborate affair, sometimes fantastically so. Bald eagle nests may be eight feet across and weigh a thousand pounds or more. Orioles weave nests of grass that are shaped like a gourd, with a narrow neck and wider pouch for the nestlings. Magpies put roofs over their nests, swallows build nests out of mud.

However, despite all the work that goes into the nest, after the nestlings have fledged, the nest is just a bunch of grass and twigs to which the birds feel no attachment. It isn’t “home” in any sense of the word. Some species, bald eagles and ospreys come to mind, will use the same nest year after year, and may hunt in the general area, but the nest is not a place to routinely come back to and put their feet up at the end of a long day.

Species that have two or even three broods each season commonly construct a new nest for each brood. This is likely partly instinctual but it does have a practical side. Despite efforts at hygiene by the parents, by the time nestlings are grown, the nest is usually a pretty dirty place where parasites can breed and threaten the occupants.  Even species that use the same nest each year usually add to the nest, burying last year’s mess under a fresh layer.

From a bird’s perspective, nests are for the raising of young, not long-term housing. Being “free as a bird” means not having a house and a yard to care about.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho