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Do wild birds live in nests all year, or only when raising their young?

Sent in by Frimley Green, Surrey

With most species, the nest itself is purely constructed to hold the eggs and chicks. However many species will use the nest site outside of the nesting season as a place to sleep.

Nests come in all shapes and sizes and a variety of different materials are used in the construction. Some species like collared doves for example create fragile nests out of twigs, often in precarious places like behind satellite dishes! Blackbirds on the other hand build intricate nests, usually in climbers, trees or shrubs, using mud to stiffen the structure and woven bits of grass and twig, lined with soft material such as moss and feathers. These nests usually only last through one nesting season, often falling apart in the autumn and winter when the birds have finished using them.

Swallows and house martins make their nests from wet mud, which they expertly craft into solid cups that stick to their chosen walls and beams. They use these to raise their families throughout their stay through the British summer, often having three broods in the same nest and also using it as a safe place to roost. When they return to Africa they do not build nests but find safety in numbers in shared roosts, often at reedbed sites where they perch together on the reed stems.

Cavity nesting birds such as members of the tit family, tawny owls and woodpeckers for example may use the same cavity to sleep in overnight as they did for nesting. However these species usually have a number of possible sites in their territories where they can roost. Many people with nestbox cameras can watch birds breeding in the box through the summer and also have the pleasure of watching a bird return over winter to sleep in the safety of the box. However, species that winter in the same site as they bred won't build a nest for such purposes, the box or cavity itself provides sufficient protection from the elements.

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