Will A Mother Bird Come Back To Her Nest? Exploring Avian Nesting Behaviors

As you stroll through the park or backyard, you may come across a fledgling hopping on the ground or an empty nest tucked among the tree branches. This might lead you to wonder: If I find a baby bird or abandoned nest, will the mother come back?

To quickly answer your question – in most cases, yes, a mother bird will return to the nest as long as she is still caring for her chicks.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll dive deep into the nesting and parenting behaviors of birds. You’ll learn what might cause a mother to temporarily leave the nest, how long baby birds can survive on their own, whether human scent deters parent birds, and more.

We’ll also provide tips on what to do if you find hatchlings or a nest that seems deserted.

Normal Nesting Habits of Birds

Typical stages of the nesting cycle

Birds go through several stages during the nesting cycle, starting with choosing a suitable location for their nest. This can vary depending on the species, with some birds preferring trees, while others opt for shrubs or even man-made structures like birdhouses.

Once a location is selected, birds begin building their nests using a combination of materials such as twigs, leaves, grass, and feathers.

After the nest is constructed, the female bird lays her eggs inside and begins the incubation process. The number of eggs laid can vary among species, ranging from just a few to a dozen or more. The incubation period can also differ, lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Once the eggs hatch, the parents take turns feeding and caring for the chicks. This stage is crucial for the survival of the young birds, as they rely entirely on their parents for food and protection. As the chicks grow, they gradually become more independent and start to explore their surroundings.

Finally, when the chicks are fully fledged and capable of flying, they leave the nest to begin their own lives. This marks the end of the nesting cycle for that particular bird.

Roles of the mother and father birds

In most bird species, both the mother and father birds play important roles in the nesting process. The mother bird is responsible for incubating the eggs, keeping them warm and safe until they hatch. During this time, the mother rarely leaves the nest, relying on the father to bring her food.

The father bird, on the other hand, takes on the role of the provider. He searches for food, often traveling long distances to find suitable sources of nourishment for the growing family. Once the chicks hatch, both parents work together to feed and care for them.

It’s worth noting that not all bird species follow this pattern. In some cases, the responsibilities may be divided differently, with one parent taking on a more dominant role while the other supports from a distance.

How long chicks remain in the nest

The duration that chicks remain in the nest varies depending on the species. Some birds, like chickens, may leave the nest within hours of hatching, while others, such as eagles, may stay in the nest for several months.

On average, most bird species have chicks that spend anywhere from 10 to 30 days in the nest. This period allows the young birds to develop their flight feathers and gain the necessary strength and skills to survive on their own.

Once they are capable of flying, the parents encourage them to leave the nest and begin their independent lives.

It’s important to note that once the chicks have left the nest, the parents may not return to it. This is because they typically move on to their next reproductive cycle, building a new nest and starting the process all over again.

Reasons Why a Mother Bird Might Leave the Nest

When it comes to avian nesting behaviors, there are several reasons why a mother bird might leave the nest. These behaviors are often driven by the need to ensure the survival of both herself and her offspring. Let’s explore some of the main reasons behind this instinctual behavior.

Searching for food and water

One of the primary reasons a mother bird might leave the nest is to search for food and water. Just like any other living being, birds need sustenance to survive. By venturing away from the nest, the mother bird can forage for insects, seeds, berries, or other sources of nourishment that are essential for her own wellbeing and that of her chicks.

It’s fascinating to observe how birds meticulously hunt for food, sometimes traveling long distances in search of the perfect meal.

Predator avoidance

Another reason for a mother bird to leave the nest is predator avoidance. Nest predators such as snakes, squirrels, or larger birds pose a significant threat to the safety of the eggs or chicks. To minimize this risk, the mother bird may strategically leave the nest for short periods to draw attention away from her vulnerable offspring.

This behavior helps to divert potential predators from discovering the nest and harming the eggs or chicks. It’s truly remarkable how birds instinctively recognize the importance of protecting their young.

Drawing predators away from the nest

In some cases, a mother bird may intentionally leave the nest to draw predators away from her offspring. By acting as a decoy, the mother bird can lure potential threats away from the nest, giving the eggs or chicks a better chance of survival.

This behavior is commonly observed in certain species where one parent stays near the nest to guard it while the other parent takes on the role of drawing predators away. It’s a remarkable example of parental instinct and sacrifice.

Understanding these reasons behind a mother bird leaving the nest allows us to appreciate the complexities of avian nesting behaviors. If you want to learn more about birds and their fascinating habits, websites like Audubon or Bird Watcher’s Digest offer valuable information and resources.

Do Birds Abandon Nests if Humans Touch Them?

There is a common misconception that birds will abandon their nests if humans touch them. However, this belief is largely unfounded. In most cases, birds will not abandon their nests solely because of human interaction.

Misconceptions about human scent

One of the main reasons people believe birds will abandon their nests is the idea that birds can detect human scent and are repelled by it. While birds do have a strong sense of smell, they are more likely to be disturbed by sudden movements or loud noises rather than the scent of humans.

In fact, many bird species have adapted to urban environments and are accustomed to human presence.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, birds like pigeons and sparrows have shown an ability to tolerate and even thrive in urban areas, where they have regular contact with humans.

When interaction causes real abandonment

While most birds will not abandon their nests due to human interference, there are some situations where interaction can lead to real abandonment. If a nest is repeatedly disturbed or if eggs or chicks are directly harmed, the parent birds may feel that the nest is no longer safe and choose to abandon it.

It is important to note that interfering with a nest is not only harmful to the birds but may also be illegal in some regions. It is crucial to respect the natural behaviors of birds and observe them from a safe distance.

Techniques for safe observation

If you are interested in observing birds and their nests, there are several techniques you can use to ensure the safety of both the birds and their offspring. One method is to use binoculars or a telephoto lens to observe the nest from a distance.

This allows you to get a close-up view without disturbing the birds.

The Audubon Society recommends maintaining a distance of at least 50 feet from the nest to avoid causing stress or potential abandonment. Additionally, it is important to avoid making sudden movements or loud noises that could startle the birds.

By following these guidelines, you can enjoy watching birds and their nesting behaviors while respecting their natural instincts and ensuring their safety.

Caring for Displaced Chicks and Eggs

When it comes to avian nesting behaviors, sometimes circumstances may arise where the chicks or eggs are displaced from their nest. In such situations, it is important to understand how to care for these vulnerable creatures. Here are some steps to consider:

How to determine if intervention is needed

Before taking any action, it is crucial to assess the situation and determine whether intervention is necessary. If you come across a chick or an egg on the ground, observe the area for a while. In some cases, the parent bird may be nearby, waiting for a safe opportunity to return to the nest.

If after a reasonable amount of time, there is no sign of the parent, it may be necessary to intervene.

Transporting nestlings safely

If you find a nestling that needs to be transported, it is important to handle them with care. First, make sure your hands are clean and free of any harmful substances such as chemicals or lotions. Gently scoop up the nestling and place it in a small, well-ventilated container lined with soft materials like tissue or grass.

Ensure that the container has small holes for air circulation. It is important not to feed the nestling unless instructed by a wildlife expert, as improper feeding can cause harm.

Reuniting fledglings with parents

For fledglings that have left the nest but are still being cared for by their parents, it is best to create a safe and comfortable environment where they can be monitored. Place the fledgling in a secure location, such as a nearby tree or shrub, away from predators and hazards.

Observe from a distance and avoid unnecessary interference. The parent birds will likely continue to care for their offspring, even outside the nest.

It is important to remember that intervention should only be considered when absolutely necessary. In most cases, avian parents are capable of providing the best care for their young. If you are unsure about what to do, it is always best to consult with a local wildlife expert or rehabilitation center for guidance.

They will have the knowledge and experience to provide the best course of action for the well-being of the birds.


From courtship rituals through fledging chicks, bird families demonstrate intricate bonds and parenting techniques. While it’s tempting to intervene when you find an empty nest, in most cases the mother will return once the perceived threat is gone.

With proper care and a little patience, parent birds and humans can coexist peacefully around nesting sites.

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