Malheur NWR’s Nest Diversity


All birds lay eggs. The nests they build—or in some cases, don’t build—are as diverse as the birds themselves. Here’s a sampling of nests from birds that breed at Malheur Refuge.

Red-winged Blackbird
Nest photo: Flickr user tjdatsrt
Red-winged blackbirds usually nest in bulrushes and cattails near water. Their cup-shaped nests are often constructed of wet leaves and marsh materials and filled with mud. The inside is then lined using soft grass or animal hair.
Ferruginous Hawk
Nest photo: Dan Streiffert
The ferruginous hawk builds a large stick nest, usually in an isolated, open location. Nests may be built on solitary trees, cliff ledges, haystacks, or even on man-made structures such as windmills and powerline poles.
Sage Thrasher
Nest photo: Peter Pearsall
The nests of sage thrashers are placed near the base of a large sagebrush plant, typically on the ground under thick cover or very low in the shrub itself. The nest is built of twigs, bark, and leaves, lined with finer material such as grasses or animal hair.
Bullock’s Oriole
Nest photo: Flickr user Bryant Olsen
Mated pairs of Bullock’s orioles cooperate to weave deep, pendant baskets in which are deposited between three and six eggs, though females tend to do much of the work. The nest is woven of plant fibers, primarily bark and fine grass fiber, though animal hair is also commonly used. The nest is lined with down, hair, and moss.
Snowy Plover
Nest photo: Nick Varvel
Snowy plovers nest on both sandy oceanic beaches and alkali lake shores. At Malheur Refuge, snowy plovers lay their eggs in a shallow scrape or hollow in dried mud. The scrape may then be lined with pebbles or bits of vegetation. 

Greater Sandhill Crane
Nest photo: Dan Streiffert
The nests of sandhill cranes are simple, mound-like platforms made of marsh plants, grasses, and weeds piled on the ground in marshes or wet meadows. Larger material forms the foundation of the nest while smaller stems or twigs form and line the egg cup. Their nests may be 4-5 feet in diameter.
Burrowing Owl
Nest photo: Dan Streiffert
This bird’s nesting preference is right in its name: Burrowing owls nest and roost in underground cavities. While capable of small amounts of earth-moving with their taloned feet, burrowing owls usually seek out the previously dug cavities of burrowing mammals (such as ground squirrels, kit foxes or badgers) in which to take residence and raise young.
Northern Flicker
Nest photo: Dan Streiffert
Northern flickers excavate nest sites in dead or dying trees, aging utility poles, fence posts, and house siding. They will also use specially designed nest boxes. The nest cavity is usually 6 to 18 inches deep, with a wide bottom for the egg chamber.
Long-eared Owl
Nest photo: Peter Pearsall
Long-eared owls in our region almost always appropriate abandoned black-billed magpie nests for their own use; the local abundance of breeding magpies may dictate how many long-eared owls nest in a given area. Ornithologist Robert Ridgway encountered long-eared owls regularly during his explorations of the West in the 1800s and noted the same magpie-owl relationship: “In…thickets [the owls] find many deserted nests of the Magpie, and selecting the most dilapidated of these, deposit their eggs on a scant additional lining. This practice is so general…that we never found the eggs or young of this species except as described above.”
Golden Eagle
Nest photo: Mick Thompson
Golden eagles often build their nests on cliffs or steep escarpments, but they may also use human-made structures such as windmills, observation towers, nesting platforms, and electrical transmission towers as platforms for their nests. A Golden Eagle pair will typically come back to the same nest year after year, enhancing and strengthening it each time. These nests are very large, averaging between five to six feet wide and two feet deep.
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