Bird nests can look like many different things: scrapes in the soil, rocky ledges, and old woodpecker holes in dead trees. But what about those gigantic structures that rest on magnificently tall trees? Or elaborate huts that look like their straight out of Architectural Digest? Discover nine birds that build the largest nests, including the nest’s size and location.
Bald eagles are enormous, powerful birds of prey native to North America. They are known for their considerable wingspans, reaching up to seven feet. But they are also famous for their gigantic nests. The largest bald eagle nest on record was near St. Petersburg, Florida. It measured over nine feet wide, 20 feet deep, and weighed over 4,400 pounds! Another in Ohio was used by a pair for 34 years and weighed over two tons. Their nests are huge because eagle pairs reuse the same nest for decades, adding new material every breeding season. They construct them using large sticks and then line the inside with moss, grass, seaweed, and other plant material. The average bald eagle’s nest is six feet wide and three feet deep.
Many believe the largest bird nest is up for debate. And you might too after hearing about the sociable weaver. Bald eagles build big nests because they are big birds. But sociable weavers are relatively small in the bird world. However, what they lack in size, they make up for in teamwork. These sparrow-sized birds weave one giant nest for their entire colony, containing up to 100 families and lasting over 100 years! At first glance, the nest resembles a large haystack perched on naked branches. But upon further examination, you can spot many circular holes on the underside of the structure. These openings lead into an inner chamber where all the birds live communally. They weave their nests using straw and line the inside with cotton and feathers. They can measure up to 23 feet in diameter, with each chamber four to six inches wide.
Golden eagles are exceptional creatures. They are one of the fastest, largest, most agile birds in the world, with a wingspan reaching close to eight feet. So it’s no surprise that such a large, majestic bird would need an equally impressive nest. On average, their nests are six feet wide and two feet high, but they can get much larger. The biggest golden eagle nest on record was 20 feet tall and almost nine feet wide. Couples place their platform structures on cliffs or other inaccessible places and construct them using coarse branches and lining the inside with grass, lichen, thin twigs, and moss.
Orange-Footed Scrub Fowl
The orange-footed scrubfowl is a medium-sized ground-dwelling bird native to Australia. And they’ve gained notoriety for building impressive incubator mounds consisting of dead leaves, soil, and sand. The decomposition of organic material within the mound generates heat and successfully incubates their eggs. Construction of the nests takes place throughout the year, and the final product can reach 15 feet high and 30 feet in diameter! Human residents within the orange-footed scrubfowl range may be displeased when these birds begin scratching up their garden, looking for the perfect mound site.
The bowerbird is a unique species known for its courtship behavior. These large passerines endemic to Australia have a very traditional approach to mating. The males create elaborate hut structures, which they decorate with brightly-colored objects, such as shells, flowers, and stones. They arrange their collection in piles, and the colors chosen are often picked based on the female’s preference. Females will visit the huts of multiple males before making their decision. Sometimes one male (the best decorator) will have several offers. These hut-like structures can reach over five feet high and six feet in diameter.
Storks are heavy-wading birds with long necks, long legs, and long bills. Storks are docile creatures, typically synonymous with new life, specifically the welcoming of a newborn. So it’s fitting that they would also be known for their impressive nests, where they welcome their own new life. Stork nests are enormous platform structures made of twigs and grass, measuring more than nine feet deep and six feet wide. They are so large that other smaller birds, like starlings and sparrows, make their nests in the spaces between the sticks.
The harpy eagle is a magnificent creature with bold and elegant features. They are around the size of a human child and feature seven-foot wingspans and huge talons. And their nests are certainly a reflection of their giant stature. Harpy eagles reuse the same nest for many years and are large enough for a human to lie across. The average nest size is four feet high and five feet across. It consists of sticks and branches, which they gather from nearby trees. And females line the interior with fur and soft plant material.
Ospreys are large sea hawks with a cosmopolitan range. Like many on this list, the osprey is a raptor with a sprawling wingspan reaching six feet. They breed near freshwater lakes and rivers and place their nests in tree forks, rocky outcrops, or artificial structures. The nest is made from sticks, driftwood, and seaweed, and many are reused each season, some lasting over 70 years. Sometimes it takes several years for the nest to become noteworthy but can eventually reach 13 feet deep and six feet in diameter. So if you ever wanted to sit in a bird’s nest, well, you can!
Trumpeter swans are the biggest native waterfowl in North America, stretching six feet long and weighing over 25 pounds. They breed in remote Alaskan wetlands and place their nests in areas surrounded by water, such as beaver dens and floating vegetation mats. They use aquatic vegetation to shape the nest into a mound with a bowl-shaped structure on top. Once completed, the mound can reach 11 feet across and 3 feet high.