Getting Grilled About Nests

Photo by Sharon Obery, IL

In the past few years at the Celebrate Urban Birds Funky Nests in Funky Places competition we have seen a fair number of nests found by contributors in their grills. And although at first it might seem surprising to learn that so many people are finding nests there (and, as you can see from their captions, the photographers are usually pretty shocked to open up their grill and encounter eggs or nestlings!), if you think a little about what certain bird species look for in a nesting location, grills actually make sense as nest homes. Why? Well, let’s review a couple facts about bird nests.

First off, many species will always nest in a protected hole, or cavity. The most common of these that you could find around your house include (but aren’t limited to) European Starlings, House Sparrows, House Wrens, and Eastern Bluebirds. Next, we should remember that the most important factor for a nest location is its capability to provide shelter and protection from predators. Does it sound like a grill would meet these requirements? Here’s some of their nest-worthy qualities:

  • They’re typically left out in the back yard with the top down (thereby creating a cavity).
  • A household grill normally isn’t used all winter or in the early spring, and so is seen by a bird as a good out-of-the-way cavity that hasn’t been taken yet.
  • Grills are raised off the ground and made of metal, meaning that they’re well-insulated and—especially since they’re often painted black—catch and absorb the sun’s rays, providing a little extra heat to keep eggs warm.

Photo by Debra French, PA

From this little list, the photos shared here, and our assumption that a majority of (sub)urban households in the US own a grill, we can see that grills across the country can serve as perfect places for cavity nesters! One question that I still haven’t answered is why the birds in these photos often put so much extra nesting material all around the actual cup of the nest. There’s several potential explanations for this—but what do you think?

To learn more about nests and how to approach them, you can visit the Celebrate Urban Birds website’s Funky Nest page. I recommend browsing previous years’ entries for your own amusement, and then try to find a nest near you that you can contribute this year!

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