Easter Garden Birds and their nests & eggs

House sparrow with nesting material © Amy Lewis

As April arrives, increasingly birds are nesting across Herts and Middlesex. Have they taken up residence in your garden bird boxes, in your hedges and have you seen them out on your exercise walks? Have you encountered fragments of bird egg shells? They’re likely to have been carried away after hatching by parent birds and discarded well away from their nests so they don’t attract predators. Egg shells are interesting finds, but which birds do they come from?  

Nests and eggs are fascinating but please remember it’s against the law to take their eggs and it is important not to disturb breeding birds while they are nesting. Instead please enjoy watching them from a distance using a pair of binoculars and take photos using a long lens. 

Did you know?

  • Egg shell is made of calcium carbonate, which is usually white. Other pigments can cause eggs to take on other colours and patterns.
  • Birds that nest in trees and shrubs (such as dunnock and blackbird) usually have greenish/blue eggs, either spotted or unspotted.
  • The eggs of hole-nesting birds are generally white or pale blue so that the parent birds can easily locate them and avoid breaking them. Egg camouflage is less important because the egg is usually well hidden within the nest.
  • Birds that lay their eggs in the open and on the ground rely on their eggs being very well camouflaged so usually produce brown or speckled eggs.
  • A clutch is a group of eggs that are laid at the same time. Their number can vary widely between species.
  • A brood is a set of young birds hatched at the same time by the same parents. Some birds can have several broods each year, while others only have a single brood.
Blackbird's nest in the hand

A disused blackbird's nest © Alan Price/Gatehouse Studio

Blackbird

Blackbird nest

Blackbird nest © Amy Lewis

A common garden and woodland bird with arguably one of the most beautiful songs of all birds. The nest is built by the female who makes an untidy cup from vegetation, such as grass and twigs, and bound together with mud and finer grasses. The nest is usually in a hedge or bush, though they will use shelves in huts and other outbuildings. The female incubates the eggs by herself and a typical clutch is 3-5 eggs. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents. The blackbird can have two or three broods a year and breeds from early spring until mid-summer.  
The smooth, glossy eggs are light greenish-blue with brown specks, and approximately 29mm by 22mm. 

Blue tit

Blue Tit Nesting

Blue Tit at nest box © Gillian Day

This beautiful blue, yellow and white blue tit is one of our most recognisable garden birds. Blue tits will nest in any hole in a tree, wall or nest box, but will also nest in more unusual places such as letter boxes and pipes. The nest is a cup made by the female from moss, wool, dead leaves, spiders' webs, and lined with down. Blue tits usually only have one brood per year, but the clutch size is very large, with 8 to 10 eggs. The female incubates the eggs by herself and after the young hatch, they are then fed by both parents, mostly on green caterpillars.
The eggs are smooth and glossy, and white with purplish-red or reddish-brown spots. They are about 16mm by 12mm. 

Song thrush

The song thrush is a familiar bird, brown above, with a white belly covered in black, drop-shaped spots. A low-down, shady place in a bush or tree or even on the ground in thick vegetation is the usual location for the nest, which is built entirely by the female. The nest is cup-shaped and constructed from grass, twigs, and earth. The lining is very smooth and thickly lined with mud, dung and rotten wood, often mixed with leaves. Song thrushes typically produce three broods a year and have a clutch of up to five eggs, which the female incubates by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.
The smooth, glossy bright blue eggs are speckled with black, and approximately 27mm by 21mm. 

Wren

Wren nest

Wren nest © Bob Coyle

The tiny wren, with its typically cocked tail, is a welcome and common visitor to gardens across town and countryside. Once the male has paired up, he will work hard to construct several ball-shaped nests in holes in walls, banks, trees, or old nests from leaves, grass and moss, providing a choice of nest for his partner. When the female has chosen her preferred one, she then lines it with feathers and hair. Wrens will generally only have one brood per year, with clutches of 5-6 eggs. Incubation is by the female only and the young are fed by both parents.
The smooth, glossy eggs are white with reddish spots, and about 16 mm by 13 mm.

Starling

Starling nest

Starling nest © Amy Lewis

These noisy, glossy, shimmering birds are a common sight feeding on garden bird-feeders. Interestingly, the males build the base of the nest from dry grass and leaves in a hole in order to attract a mate. He then sings from perches close to the nest entrance. The female completes the nest by making a nest cup and lining it with fine grasses, moss and feathers. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young. A typical clutch size is 4-6 eggs.  
The eggs are pale blue, smooth and glossy, and about 30mm by 21mm. 

Robin

A familiar and well-loved garden bird with its cheerful red breast and loud song. Robins are famous for nesting in all kinds of unlikely locations, including sheds, kettles, boots, hanging baskets and even under car bonnets!  Robins prefer an open-fronted area in a hidden location in a climber or other vegetation. The cup nest, built by the female alone, is made of dead leaves and moss, lined with hair. Robins are very sensitive to disturbance and will abandon a nest if they think it has been discovered. They will start to lay their eggs around April and can have two broods a year with each clutch of 4-5 eggs. One egg is laid each day, usually early in the morning.  
Robin eggs are smooth with a white matte finish with pale brown freckles. They measure about 20mm by 15mm.

Dunnock

Dunnock with nest material

Dunnock with nest material © Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

These ground-feeding grey-brown birds are often mistaken for sparrows in gardens. The cup-shaped nest is built by the female in dense shrubs and hedges, lined with moss and hair, and built from grass, twigs and moss. Dunnocks typically have a clutch of 4-5 eggs but are often parasitized by cuckoos, which will also lay their eggs in the nest. Both adults feed the newly-hatched young, but are often assisted by other male birds.  
Their eggs are sky blue and glossy in appearance and are around 20mm x 15mm in size. 

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

Chaffinch © Bob Coyle

The colourful and delightful chaffinch is a regular garden visitor, easily distinguished by their white wing-bar. In April both male and female chaffinch gather materials for the nest which is usually built in a hedge or the fork of a tree. The female is responsible for building a neat cup nest from moss, grass, and feathers bound with spiders' webs, lined with feathers and wool, and decorated with lichen and flakes of bark. Finally, she lines the nest with hair for comfort and warmth before laying four or five eggs.  Once the eggs hatch both male and female collect a range of live prey to feed to their youngsters.
Eggs are smooth, glossy and white with irregular brown markings, approximately 15mm by 20mm.

House sparrow

House sparrow

House sparrow © Amy Lewis

The house sparrow is a familiar, streaky brown bird of towns, parks and gardens and can often be heard chirping away in hedgerows. They often nest in colonies and pairs will build an untidy dome or cup-shaped structure of grass and straw, in holes or crevices in buildings, or among creepers growing on buildings. They will readily use nest boxes and occasionally oust tits that are already nesting. They lay their first brood in April or May and can have several broods each year, with clutches of 4-5 eggs in each. 
Their eggs are white with grey or blackish speckles, smooth and glossy. They are about 23mm by 16mm.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Nuthatch © Neil Aldridge

The nuthatch has a short tail, large head and a woodpecker-like bill. Nuthatches climb up and down tree trunks in mature woods and parklands, feeding on insects, seeds and nuts. They nest in holes in trees or abandoned nests using bark chips and dead leaves. They are happy to use nestboxes too. The female incubates the eggs by herself, but both parents feed the young after they have hatched.
The eggs are about 20mm by 15mm. They are smooth and glossy, and white with red or reddish-brown brown spots.

If you have knowledge of the whereabouts of any birds’ nests, particularly rarer breeds, then please be careful with that information. Do not openly discuss or post any information online that could be used by egg thieves, even when the breeding season is over.

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