May 16, 2016

Be A Super Hero: how to save a fallen nest

Now, if you’ve read my post on blue jays, then you’ll know I’ve got a thing for backyard birds. Spring is like bird central at my place. They’re everywhere. Making noise, eating bugs, bathing in my unopened pool. They’re busy building nests and having babies, and I love watching the intense activity that spring ushers in. Of course, this personal investment comes at a price: the sadness that inevitably comes with fallen nests, broken eggs, and dead baby birds (which is by far the worst). Fortunately the latter happens rarely, but the fallen nest and broken eggs, happen more often than I’d like. Especially with the mourning doves that make my yard their home. We had another fallen nest this morning, and while typically I feel sad about it but chalk it up to the whole Lion-King-circle-of-life-thing, today I sprung into action. Yes, in my pre-coffee morning stupor, I saved a mourning dove egg from certain death. I kind of feel like a super hero right now; let me have this moment. 

It happened as I was saying goodbye to my husband, who noticed the doves’ ramshackle, held-together-by-three-twigs-and-a-prayer nest, sitting in my hostas, instead of where it had been the day before, 15-feet higher in the tree. And beside that nest, cradled at the base of the hosta was a perfectly perfect dove egg. So, I did what any rational person would do: I thew open the front door, traipsed into my garden in my socks, and set about saving that egg!

Mourning Doves are terrible contractors

Did you know mourning doves are potentially the worst nest builders ever? They are. They pick weird unprotected spots to make nests, and their nests are typically flimsy, full of huge egg-sized holes, and are easy pickin’s for predators, wind, and the slightest movement. How they have managed to survive until now is beyond me. I have watched them for years with their stupid nests and their fallen eggs in every corner of our yard. And I have never, EVER seen a dove fledgling.

Mourning doves can brood up to six times a season, which, if their nests are any indication of their success rate, is the only reason that there are mourning doves at all. They are clearly hedging their bets. And just because you come across a cold dove egg it doesn’t mean all is lost: dove eggs can go unincubated for 12 hours or so, basically until the dove is ready to get serious and hunker down! (Want to know more about mourning doves? Of course you do! Check out The Cornell Lab of Orinthology)

Save a fallen nest. Save a life. So cool.

You can save nests and eggs. Contrary to popular myth, birds don’ t have amazing senses of smell and won’t know you’ve touched the eggs. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason doves ever successfully raise their young is because they’ve trained us humans to be their brains.

So, after a quick Google search, I grabbed a yogurt container, cobbled together a little nest basket and out the front door I went, in my super-hero-mom outfit (A.K.A my ratty old houscoat and crazy morning hair). I grabbed a ladder and up I went. Not just halfway, of course. Pfft. Halfway is half-done, as far as I’m concerned. Nope, I went all the way to the top, as in the very top step that has that warning that you shouldn’t step on. I reconsidered it of course, as I was standing there, surveying the neighbourhood, slowly realizing that, a) I could fall and die and wouldn’t that be ironic, and b) people could actually see me in the front yard, and that even though I was pretty super-hero-bad-ass right now, I didn’t exactly have the power of invisibility in my superhero robe belt.

I quickly hightailed it back down the ladder, thankful for terra firma, and blamed the lack of caffeine for my risky choices. I went back in the house, sat by the window (with a coffee, of course) and waited. It didn’t take long. Probably 15 minutes and the doves were back, both the male and female. They checked out the basket, got right in and went to work tidying up their untidy nest. And I sat there, feeling pretty smug. Even if no one ever knows, I can add baby bird saviour to my internal resume of cool things I’ve done.



within minutes, the doves were back, checking out the fruits of my labour.

So, if you’re looking for a quick trick to store in your one-day arsenal, here’s what I did*:

(**disclaimer**never stand on the very top of a ladder and adhere to all normal standards of ladder safety.)

How To Save A Fallen Nest:

Get a plastic yogurt container or other shallow plastic vessel. Something like a plastic strawberry basket or even an old frisbee would’ve been perfect, if I’d had one. Which I didn’t. Poke a few holes in the bottom of the container, for drainage if it rains.

Make two holes on either side of the container, large enough to run string through it. You will be making handles, so make sure the holes are set evenly apart, or the container won’t hang straight.

Run string through the holes, ensuring the ends are knotted tightly and allow for at least a foot of string length on each side.

Round up some dried grass, or leaves, or straw and pack it into the bottom of the container.

DIY nest basket. Add dried grasses to empty container.

Lay the nest on top of the dried material in the container. Gently press the nest down until it is securely in the container. You don’t want it just resting on top or else it will be as crummy and as flimsy as the dove originally made it.

Nest on top to DIY nest basket

You are going to hang your nest basket as close to the original spot as you can. In my case, it was in a crotch where two thick branches met. I hung the basket much like a hammock, using my string handles as you would to tie a hammock between two trees. I wedged the basket as tightly as I could between the two branches, then tightly knotted the string to the branches so the basket didn’t sway. I returned the egg to the nest, said a quick prayer. And waited.

hang the nest basket in the tree securely.

And this: This was the dove 30 minutes after I had hung the basket. And I’m happy to report she’s still there. Hopefully this will be my first dove fledgling. (I’m a proud momma already!)


hunkering down for some serious incubating!

Happy nest-saving!


  1. Jared - 1 year ago

    Jen, I’m currently laughing my face off in the middle of a play place. I look weird. But, now I know more about mourning doves. It’s worth it.

    • Jen - 1 year ago

      Not sure if the strange looks a grown man gets laughing alone in a children’s play place is worth some mourning dove knowledge, but I’ll take it! 😉

  2. sweetlifemason - 2 months ago

    Hi! Did it work for you? I just found an egg on my deck after a wind/ice storm and am not sure what to do about it. So far I’ve moved it into a tray with some leaves, but I’m not sure where the original nest was.

    • Jen - 2 months ago

      It DID work! (until the crows came a few days later and ripped the nest apart! A sad tale for another day…) The good news is, this is their first eggs of many: most birds lay a couple of times a season, so I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t know exactly where it came from. Chances are it was a part of a nest that either got torn apart by a predator or blown so far and wide that the birds wouldn’t be able to find all the eggs anyway.

      Did they find the tray? If not, I’d just chalk it up to a loss by now. But if it happens again, and you know generally where the nest came from, replacing the nest within a container really did work–we even reset a fallen nest with live baby robins and that worked, too!

      It’s so heartbreaking and such a big responsibility though, isn’t it?

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