Chickadee nests are located in nest boxes and tree holes, and are consistently made of green moss with mixed in peeled bark, a layer of fur, and they will have a clean nest cup. This is distinct from house sparrow nests and bluebird nests.
Every bird species will have a consistent way of building a nest, using the same material and a very similar architecture. For instance, bluebird nests are made of pine needles, tall grass or a mix. They will be located in nest boxes and tree holes, and they will have a neatly formed nest cup.
House wren nests are located in nest boxes, birdhouses and tree holes. They are consistently made of sticks, lined with feathers and will have spider egg sacks throughout the nest. They also do not have a neatly formed cup. Instead, their nests tunnel.
Likewise, chickadees use consistent material when building their nests. Chickadee nests are fairly clean looking, though sometimes they can be a little on the messy side in terms of makeup and structure.
If you are wondering if the nest you have in your nest box is a chickadee nest, seeing lots of soft green moss is the primary signature that you indeed have a chickadee nest.
Chickadee Nest Composition and Architecture:
- Lots of green moss
- Peeled bits of bark interspersed in the moss
- Nests closer to completion or that are active with eggs/nestlings will have a fur top-layer
- It is located in a cavity of some type: usually a nest box or tree hole
- It will have a clean cup where the eggs or nestlings are – no tunneling
- Chickadee nests are kept very clean. There will likely be little poop unless nestlings were fed berries or it is closer to a time when they will fledge.
This article will talk all about chickadee nests, from the first signs you have a chickadee building a nest in your nest box to how long it takes them to build, and what to do after nestlings fledge.
Table of Contents
- Bird nest gallery: Compare to chickadee nests
- Chickadee nests
- Tufted titmouse nests (nest not pictured)
- Bluebird nests
- Carolina Wren Nests
- House Wren Nests
- House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow Nests
- First signs of a chickadee nest in your nest box
- Chickadee nests: timeline information
- Watch a chickadee nest being built:
- Responsibly managing chickadee nests
- What to do with the nest after your chickadees fledge
- Take time to learn as much as you can
- Visit our Chickadee Resource Hub To Learn More
- Related Articles
Bird nest gallery: Compare to chickadee nests
This picture shows the makeup of a chickadee nest, which is composed of moss, bark and then lined with fur.
This picture looks down on a chickadee nest. There is a cup within that contains eggs.
Tufted titmouse nests (nest not pictured)
Titmice are known to build nests very similar to chickadees, and it makes sense since their species are sort of cousins.
Titmice nests will also be made of a mossy base and will have a nest cup. But a difference can be that more grass or leaves are used in the top layer – more than fur.
Knowing the difference between a titmouse nest and chickadee nest is important, because if you put a chickadee hole reducer on the nest box that was really occupied by titmice, the titmice will not be able to get in.
While we unfortunately do not have any photos of a tufted titmouse nest, Nest Watch’s website has a great photo to look at. You’ll notice leaves mixed into the overall composition.
Bluebirds make their nests out of grass and pine needles. When they’re under construction, it can be hard to distinguish their nest from house sparrow nests. And sometimes a bluebird nest can be on the messy side.
But the difference beyond mess is that a bluebird nest will stop short of the entry hole. House sparrows, on the other hand, build higher than the entry hole, forming a tunnel from the entry hole to the nesting chamber.
Carolina Wren Nests
Carolina wren nests are composed of different materials including pine needles, grass, and leaves. While Carolina wren nests tunnel, they do not usually build in nest boxes (though sometimes they will).
Instead Carolina Wrens are known for building nests in odd places – garages, shelves, grills, the hoods of a hoodie.
This picture shows a Carolina wren nest in a flower pot containing a fern.
House Wren Nests
House wrens are cavity nesting birds, and will nest in tree holes and nest boxes. The composition and architecture of their nests are very consistent. They will use small twigs and just a little bit of grass from time to time.
Another famed material found within house wren nests are spider egg sacks.
Once the stick base is complete, the female house wren will line the interior space with feathers.
Like Carolina wrens, house wrens will also tunnel their nest. In this case, the tunnel forms from the entry hole to the nesting chamber.
Pictured are two incomplete wren nests. The one on the right was discovered in a decorative birdhouse (these are not safe for birds). The one on the left was discovered in a bluebird nest box.
House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow Nests
House sparrows are an invasive species in North America, and are well-known for killing native cavity nesting birds including adult bluebirds and tree swallows.
Eurasian tree sparrows are another introduced old world sparrow, but its population has not spread much beyond the St. Louis area.
Both house sparrows and Eurasian tree sparrows build their nests the same way. They fill it with whatever material they can find including feathers and even trash. Their nests are famed for tunneling from the entry hole down into the actual nest.
Therefore, something you won’t see in a house sparrow nest that you would see in a chickadee and bluebird nest is a neatly formed cup sitting just below the entry hole.
Knowing what these nests look like is important – because if you are questioning whether you have a chickadee nest in your nest box or something else, having a comparison and understanding how other birds build their nest will allow you to answer that question.
First signs of a chickadee nest in your nest box
While you may have seen chickadees interested in a particular nest box, the first sign that a chickadee is building a nest will be small pieces of moss. If they are building over an old nest, look closely. The green moss will stand out.
If you’ve discovered some moss in your nest box, it’s time to put a hole reducer on the nest box to protect the chickadees.
Nesting cavities are in high demand, and other larger birds can potentially evict them. The hole reducer works by size exclusion where reducing the hole size prevents other, larger birds from gaining access to the nest box and potentially attacking the chickadees or chasing them out.
The right size hole reducer to use is a 1-1/8 inch hole reducer. These can be found on Amazon* or at your local bird store.
If you’re waiting on your order to be delivered and want to ensure protection, you can make a temporary one. We have a video tutorial and a photographic article with instructions and a size template.
Something important to keep in mind with hole reducers is that some chickadees might be a little uneasy about them. Monitor the nest box carefully to be certain the chickadees are still entering and bringing stuff to the nest.
You can also purchase a 1-1/4 inch hole reducer to train the chickadees into the smaller one. Start off with the 1-1/4 inch hole reducer, and once you see them gaining entry to the box, swap it out for the smaller hole reducer.
The 1-1/8 inch hole reducer will protect chickadees from house sparrow, bluebird and other larger bird invasions. However, there have been rare reports of house sparrows getting in despite the 1-1/8 inch hole reducer. This doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility.
The hole reducer will not prevent house wrens or Eurasian tree sparrows (if you have them in your area) from getting into the nest box and evicting chickadees or harming nestlings.
Table 1. Shows two different sized hole reducers and certain cavity nesting bird species they exclude.
|Bird Species||1-1/8 inch Hole Reducer||1-1/4 inch Hole Reducer|
|Eurasian Tree Sparrow||Allows||Allows|
|Bluebird (Eastern, Western and Mountain)||Excludes||Excludes|
Chickadee nests: timeline information
Chickadee nests take anywhere between a week or two to build. And the amount of time it takes depends on how much time they are spending on territory defense from other chickadees or if they are excavating their own nesting hole in a tree.
The female chickadee will start by brining moss to the nest box. She will make several trips, layering the moss and shimmying in the nest box to start forming a cup tailored to her body.
As the mossy layer grows, she will start adding peeled wood in combination with moss.
Nest height can depend on the size of the nest box. In a traditional bluebird nest box (which we recommend for chickadees), her nest height might reach about 3-4 inches, and sit just 1-2 inches below the entry/exit hole.
Once the moss-bark layer is complete, momma chickadee will begin adding fur to the nest box. She lines the top layer and the nest cup with fur.
Eggs may come as a surprise if you are monitoring the nest box. Upon quick inspection, it may not appear as though any eggs are in the nest, but chickadees are well-known for hiding them until they are ready to incubate.
To clarify, a little more – female chickadees usually lay one egg a day. Sometimes they skip a day. Sometimes they may lay more than one. But they will not start sitting on their eggs for prolonged periods (incubation) until all the eggs are laid. This ensures all of the baby chickadees hatch at the same time and fledge the nest at about the same time.
Watch a chickadee nest being built:
Responsibly managing chickadee nests
Based on the description of what chickadee nests look like, if you have discovered the signs of a chickadee nesting in your nest box, it is very important that you do not remove nesting material and do not discourage them from nesting.
Chickadees only have one brood per year, and face so many threats from predators, habitat loss, competing species and invasive species.
Therefore, it is vital to protect them and help them thrive.
Additionally, chickadees are federally protected. Therefore it is against the law to harm chickadees or interfere with active nests.
It is, however, encouraged that you carefully monitor chickadee nests. We have a helpful guide that explains how to monitor cavity nests and how to do so ethically.
As you develop a love for your backyard birds, it is also important to develop a heart for bird conservation. And protecting chickadee nests is a great first step toward your conservation journey.
What to do with the nest after your chickadees fledge
If you have had the joy of watching chickadees nest in your yard, and experienced the wonder of fledge day, then you might be wondering what to do with your empty nest.
Unfortunately, you cannot keep the nests. Federal laws regulate the possession of protected bird nests, eggs, feathers and birds themselves. Only qualified, permitted individuals can keep these items.
So, once your chickadees have left the nest, it’s time to clean the nest box and reset it.
Chickadees are early nesters, nesting between March-June. And since they only have one set of babies a year, they are completely done with the nest afterward.
However, other bird species may use the nest box – bluebirds or tree swallows, for example. This is one of the reasons we recommend using bluebird nest boxes for chickadees.
And after examining and testing several types of nest boxes, our favorite off-the-shelf nest box for beginners and intermediates is the Woodlink BB3 model.
- Bluebird Nest Box – Roomy Starter Bluebird House
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You can order it directly from Nest Hollow, or find it on Amazon* if that is more convenient.
We recommend this nest box for its larger size, all natural wood color, ability to fit a Blink camera in it for monitoring, and its ability to fit a Van Ert trap in it.
Nature’s Way has a few popular entry-level nest boxes. But we do not recommend those due to their dark top which can overheat nest boxes, killing eggs and nestlings.
Take time to learn as much as you can
Having a chickadee choose to nest in your yard gives you an amazing opportunity to watch and learn all about their behavior.
You’ll find your chickadees to be very quirky, very attentive and and very cautious, making them all the more interesting to watch.
Take time to really look at their interactions, what they feed their young, how they communicate with each other, how they alert each other to predators and danger.
And even when they have finished nesting, you’ll find momma and poppa chickadee still caring for their young and teaching them how to find food, water and other resources.
Visit our Chickadee Resource Hub To Learn More
* This article contains affiliate links. While there are affiliate links on this site, our primary goal is bird conservation. We do not recommend products for a quick buck. We recommend products that have been tested and meet our incredibly high standards for bird protection and conservation. But as an Amazon Associate Nest Hollow earns from qualifying purchases.