Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: Animal Nests Explained

Get cozy for this week’s Ask Your Weird Animal Questions, because it’s all about nesting.

“In [Michigan] where I live we have the ruby-throated hummingbird. They use spider webs to make their nests. Does anyone know if they use the webs of specific spiders, or if the spiders travel with them to the nests?”—Ventura Calederon Parada, via a comment on “A Living Nest?

Hummingbirds make these intricate nests with a base of thistle and dandelion, and then build the walls by lacing spiderweb with plant matter using a figure-eight motion. (See “Photos: World’s Biggest, Strongest Spider Webs Found.”)

A ruby-throated hummingbird in Findlay, Ohio. Photograph by Scott Bechtel, National Geographic Your Shot

“Although the reader’s idea is ingenious, it doesn’t really seem plausible,” James V. Remsen, Jr., curator of birds at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said via email.

For one, it’s not known whether the birds prefer the webs of a specific type of spider.

What’s more, any spider that gets accidentally picked up by a hummingbird would likely end up being a meal, he said. In addition to feeding on nectar, “hummingbirds are voracious insectivores,” he said.

“Can you tell me why a wild rabbit would dig a hole about [half] as long as it is, store dead oleander leaves in it, and then cover it up completely? Even spreading the decorative rocks back where they were originally… Even though we knew right where it was done, we couldn’t see any trace of disturbance.”—Bernice Spurger, Quartzite, Arizona

This enterprising rabbit is likely a mother making a nest.

“Female rabbits often dig a small burrow and line it with leaves and twigs,” Anthony Knight, retired professor of clinical sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said via email. “I have observed this myself in the past, but not with oleander leaves.”

A photo of bunnies in their nest.
Baby bunnies in a nest. Photograph by Carol Samsel, National Geographic Your Shot

Pinau Merlin, an Arizona naturalist, lecturer, and author, said in an email, “Even when the babies are in the nest, the mother covers it over again so it is invisible to predators.” She returns twice a night to nurse her young, Merlin said.

“This may be a young, inexperienced rabbit if she is using oleander leaves,” Merlin said: Oleander is toxic if ingested. Knight added that oleander may have just been in abundance at the time that the rabbit in question made her nest.

“Never seen a crow [nest]. Do they fly [south] for the winter?”—Ninas Cherry, Illinois

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, crows usually hide their nests “in a crotch near the trunk of a tree” or in the upper two-thirds of a tree. Anywhere from 6 to 19 inches (15 to 22 centimeters) in diameter, crow nests are made mostly of medium-size twigs and lined with pine needles, weeds, soft bark, or animal hair. They have a clutch of six to nine eggs. Some crow species migrate, while others stay put.

One last nest you have to see is this hornet’s nest that looks as though it’s grown out of a human face. The photo was posted on Reddit by Cliff Seeger, whose dad made the wooden face sculpture about ten years ago, the Huffington Post reported. It had been in an unopened shed for some time—long enough for the hornets to make an entire resort out of it.

Hornet’s nests, according to Michael F. Potter at the University of Kentucky, are usually attached to a tree, bush, or building; “resemble a large, inverted tear-drop-shaped ball”; and should be removed only by a pest-control professional.

Got a question about the wild and wonderful animal world? Tweet me or leave me a note on Facebook.

Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com
  • Doug Rhodehamel

    all these nest stories are really cool… until that last one… which is more than scary. thanks for the nightmares. looks like a leftover prop from X-files… but it’s not!

  • arman

    چرا نشنال ژئو گرافی فارسی در یوتل قطع شده کجا میتونم ببینم

  • Charles Collin

    Keenly watching the ‘Wild Nile’ on Nat Geo Wild, as the world longest river enters Egypt, there were some animal drawings especially herbivores on rock faces an evidence that the area was colonised by very many animals. The narrator claimed that the animals might have migrated southward due to harsh climatic conditions, a convincing fact bearing in mind that the area is now a desert. But ma biggest concern is that the opposite is true on the Sand river in Namibia where animals including elephants & lions are surviving one of the harshest place on the planet worse than those of Egypt which is claimed to have faced out millions of animals. Have these animals evolved to survive? Why haven’t they not migrated like their counterparts in the Egypt did? What really happened to the same animals in Egypt?

  • Tom

    a rabbit made a nest outside my bedroom window. I propped a wheelbarrow over the nest to provide some shelter. My question is about how long before she gives birth does she make the nest?

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