Will human touch cause a Robin to abandon its nest?

estreyaApril 11, 2008

At best, this question is only tangentially related to Northwest Gardening, as i live in the Northwest, and the question is about something in my garden. :) I do apologize if it's not the correct forum.

Having said that, does anyone happen to know to what extent a Robin's nest can be disturbed without causing the nest to be abandoned?

Today, i wanted to get a photograph of what i thought was a perfect Robin's nest. Since i couldn't see into the nest from my vantage point, i moved a few branches out of the frame with one hand and stretched my camera arm above the nest to snap the picture. I was careful not to touch or disturb the nest because somewhere deep in my little girl history i was told never to touch birds nests or its occupants wouldn't return because of the human smell (i have no idea who told me that, but the message stuck).

Much to my surprise, the photograph revealed a perfect blue egg in the nest. So now i'm quite worried that my scent on the branches may cause that wee little egg to be abandoned. Is there any rational basis at all for my concern?

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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

I wouldn't worry about any scent that you may have left behind, birds don't have a very good sense of smell. However, I would not continue to visit the nest - the robins might decide to abandon this nest and start a new one elsewhere if there is frequent disturbance to the site.

Thank you for sharing the photo - it is very cool to see. Such a wonderful sign of spring.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 8:30PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I don't think it is true. Biologists capture and band baby birds and put them back in the nest. They sometimes weigh then and draw blood for research.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 12:48AM
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reg_pnw7(WA 7, sunset 4)

Yes, both of the above are right. And, robins tend to build their nests, and raise their babies successfully, right on people's doorsteps literally. On porch lights, on porch rafters, in hanging baskets ...

Now most birds are not nearly as tolerant of human activity around their nests as that, so it's not a blanket statement by any means. And, even robins will draw the line at dogs and cats around their nests.

Repeated, continual, direct disturbance will drive them off, but a one-time photo session should not. Great photo by the way!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 10:42AM
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Oh, i'm very relieved, you guys! Thank you. And you're right, reg_pnw7, about their lack of hesitation to build near a house - there's another nest that's a work in progress in a potted tree beneath my back deck. I was about to plant it, noted the nest, and slowly backed away. :) I guess i'll wait till the fall to plant it up, but meanwhile, i'll relax a little bit about moving around it.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 11:51AM
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In 2006 robins successfully raised a brood of two in my caneberry patch. I worked in that berry patch dozens of times and because it is on a single frame, it was jostled a lot as well. Robins are pretty stubborn.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 12:32AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I think it originated by parents who wanted their kids to leave the nests alone. Same for green apples will make you sick. Parents wanted the kids to wait until they were ripe.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 7:26AM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

Sorry, but we had an unfortunate experience where we just peeked into a nest in a vine under our deck, we did not touch anything, and later found the nest had been abandoned, all the eggs still unhatched as when we had looked in. So I disagree with the above.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 2:30AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Hemnancy, you say you didn't touch anything, just peeked in a vine under your deck, and you blame a peek on the abandonment. The connection is rather tenuous in my opinion.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 8:27PM
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More likely the adult bird was injured or killed.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 12:27AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I bet a human fist would.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 8:43PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I don't know about robins but wrens are persistent little birds, twice I've had to move their nests. Once when she built her nest in the hitch of our boat trailer, I took her nesting material and placed it in a coconut shell birdhouse and hung from a window frame and just a couple of days ago found a little wren had built her nest in another unique place, an old wood turned reject of DHs, I had to move that off a shelf as it was propped up beside my watering can. It's now lodged in a clematis vine which is a much safer place for her to raise her young, this little wren didn't blink an eye, just continued to feather her nest.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 11:30PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

A friend has some boxes in the yard he built for bumblebees. A queen got into one before he had put it where he wanted it. When he moved it with her inside she flew out and went back to where the box had been, looking for the nest. (So he put the box back and she went back in).

I thought that was kind of interesting, that it would remember the location of the nest and give that preference over where the nest itself was.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2008 at 11:58AM
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penserosa(z6 NJ)

Hey there - I'm barging in and bumping this up in hopes you can answer a related question. We have a robin's nest in our flowering quince with two near-fledglings in it. The parents have allowed us to peek in frequently. Today there's been strong wind and the nest is tipped sideways, with one baby in it and the other sitting on top of the nest. I know Mother Nature doesn't need help, but it's hard to resist trying. I wondered if I could pick up the top baby, reposition the nest, and put the baby back into it? What do you think?


    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 5:34PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Maybe the parents are inept nesters and it would therefore be better to allow them to fail to pass their genes on. Natural selection in action.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 5:56PM
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Pat........yes.........you can reposition the nest and move the baby.

The instinctive drive to take care of their chicks is much stronger than their concern of human scent!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 5:59PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Probably can't smell that anyway.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 10:15PM
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blheron(7 and 8)

I used to be the Education Director at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and we got this question a lot.

From everything I have been told, read, and experienced, human touch will not cause problems as long as it's not excessive.

By the way, this is the time of year we start finding those little ones falling out of nests. Don't be afraid to pick them up and put them back, Mom and Dad will continue to care for them unless there is something wrong and they were intentionally pushed out (natural selection at work). If you can't reach the nest try to put the "baby" under a bush near the nest on the ground and hope no other critters can find it. Parents will continue to feed and care for it there (usually!).

On a final note, if you find a bird that seems injured, before doing anything else try just putting it in a shoe box lined with a towel with the cover on for a couple of hours. Don't peak! Sometimes they just need some "recovery time" in the dark after an incident. After a couple hours, open the box, carefully lift it out and hold your hand open. Nine times out of ten it will fly away!

Hope that helps, just some old education from an old memory!


    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 8:42PM
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If anyone is still around, I have another nest & egg question. A junco built a nest in a hanging basket on my front porch. It about scared me to death when it flew out as I was watering the basket a couple weeks ago, and I got a good scolding! At that point, there were no eggs. A few days later, there was one egg, but I wasn't seeing the bird around anymore and thought perhaps she had abandoned the nest. Then a few days after that, the egg was gone. Can they move their eggs? Surely they don't lay eggs, hatch them and push the kid out in the space of a few days? Right now I'm wondering if something got the egg, despite the nest being very well hidden. Any guesses?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2008 at 5:59PM
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Something probably got it. It's also possible the hen, or another bird, put more nesting material on top of the egg and buried it.
Also, a larger bird could have pick it up and carried it off to eat.

Birds nesting in hanging baskets don't fare well if you have any cats in the area. DM had such a setup and the chicks and hen were often killed each year. Once she hung up a wren nestbox all has been well!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2008 at 8:20PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Songbirds are prey, the turnover is high. Most don't live more than a few years. I was stooped over weeding once in the back here (an increasingly rare occurrence!) and looked up in time to see an adult Cooper's hawk streak by and pluck a junco off a twig near the ground, probably not even 12' in front of me, and disappear with it into a rhododendron. This all happened in an instant, I'm sure the little guy (or gal) never knew what hit it. Afterward the twig vibrated for awhile and some junco feathers floated down from it to the ground.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 4:01PM
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Visited the docs office today, while I was waiting outside with my son, a woman asked if I wanted to see some baby birds in the ground bushes next to the building wall. There were 3 good size babies just ready to fledge. She told me some tree cutters came and were trimming the tree branches where they cut one branch with the nest on it. (*sses) they just violated the migratory bird act

The nest was moved more than 10 feet away to ground level in a 2 ft shrub, and I never saw the mom come to feed them nor did I hear them chirp at all. The woman said they been there for a couple of days now with no problems. I had to leave to go home, but decided to come back after work at night to check on them and feed them if possible. I wet some pieces of bread, but they were all huddled together tucked down and quiet as can be. They didn't budge to eat. I will go in the morning to check on them. I hate to see life perish from man's involvement. Any help on this would be great. I will try to feed fruit and worms at best.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 12:23AM
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Check the site below for a wildlife rehabilitator near you. You can also call the Audubon Society to see if there's a rescue near you.

If you're sure the hen is not around, then gather the babies and take them to a wildlife rescue. It's unusual for the hen to abandon chicks and she could have been roosting nearby when you went by tonight, but if something has happened to her then they will die.

Don't expect them to eat for you. They don't recognize the food you're offering and you need to know what species they are so that they're fed their natural diet. They also may not be old enough to eat on their own yet.

Hopefully by early morning the hen has moved them to a safer place, but if they're not old enough to fledge, then they're not going anywhere.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wildlife rescue

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 1:52AM
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i have a robin nest with 4 eggs in it in a bush right next to my porch- i have 10 kids so whenever someone goes outside the robin bird flys away..will this cause the robin to abandon its eggs??

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 12:33PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Likely not

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 1:32PM
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What many are not addressing is that your visits to a nest are not unobserved. Crows and othe birds will watch what you are doing or at least notice a nest they may not have otherwise noticed when you are mucking about with it. They later come in and prey upon the eggs or nestlings. Crow predation is natural and normal, but your role in causing it, not so normal. If your visit/uncovering of the nest is accidental then so be it, but visiting it purposely should be avoided. Also, tree rats and squirrels have incredibly good senses of smell and both prey on bird nests.

Birds are far less likely to abandon a nest once the young have hatched. They have invested far more time/resources into it by that point.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 2:02PM
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I have a nest on top of a ladder under my covered porch. (We had one there last year also-5 chicks hatched and flew the coop!!) When I started noticing robins in the yard this spring, I put the ladder back in the same place and it built a nest in two days!! A few days later, I peeked in and their was 2 eggs. I checked again a few days later and there were 2 more. It has been a very rainy cold spring in our area. About a week later, she started visiting her nest less and less. It's now been 2 days since I have seen her!! I'm so sad. What could have happened?? What should I do with the nest and eggs now?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:47AM
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I have a robin building her nest on the back side of our basketball backboard. The nest is literally opposite of the hoop with an acrylic see-through backboard. While I love to see this sign of spring, my kids will have a hard time not playing. 2 questions: 1. If I keep my kids away from playing, how long will it take for her to have her eggs and raise her babies and 2. If I do allow them to play, would it scare her away? What should I do?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 2:21PM
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Just found a fledgling on the ground below it's nest. I have a forty foot pine tree and the nest is about two feet from the top. I got a ladder,climbed up to the top and put her back in the nest. After about five minutes the mother came back to the nest with a partial worm so I say it's a myth.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 7:17PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)


They'll fledge at 2 weeks. The reason I know, we had a nest just outside the kitchen window. I took images & brief videos every 2 days.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 10:29PM
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I have a robin's nest under my sundeck. My dog has stopped going out in the back yard to pee or chase balls etc. She has always loved going out back, but due to her being harassed by the robin.s she has not ventured off the sundeck for the last two weeks. Any suggestions?

Kim G.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 9:28PM
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Kim, your dog will get over it ...
In about 6 - 7 weeks the chicks will have left the nest.
This is a Robins nest I found out my back yesterday ?:^]

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 5:24AM
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Lyradane, about how big are those eggs? They are not American Robin eggs, they would be blue. Those look like Oregon Junco eggs, they nest on the ground.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 3:28PM
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They are a light blue ... and are quiet small.
The picture isn't the best, I was trying to keep my distance.
I'm in Ireland, County Limerick.
I'm 99% sure they are Robin eggs.
I've seen her parading up and down the same route the last month and now she spends must of the time on the eggs ?:^]

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Oops, I am so sorry...Okay, so you are Ireland, my bad, I thought you were posting from the Pacific Northwest because 1. this is the Pacific Northwest Forum and 2. our robin eggs don't look like that! LOL :-) The European Robin Erithacus rubecula, is a beautiful bird, about half the size of our American Robin(Turdus migratorius) Thank you for sharing the look at this nest, I had never seen one of your species.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 5:29PM
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I had an interesting situation at our house. Bought a flower planter and left it on our front porch about chest high off the porch. I saw a bird's nest appear a couple weeks later but never saw a bird so I tossed the nest into the bushes to mulch. Then I saw the flowers were trampled and looked to see why and found 3 Robin's eggs in the flower bed. I used utensils to retrieve the nest from the bushes and carefully laid the 3 eggs into the nest. All the while the mama Robin was squawking at me. I checked and saw the bird returned to the nest and was doing some tidying up. Then low and behold she reclaimed the nest. Later that same day I saw 4 eggs as she apparently had one in reserve. She is nesting nicely now and we can't wait to see her little hatchlings come to life. I did handle the nest by hand at first when I tossed it but who knows if the bird cared. It makes sense that birds don't have a sense of smell.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 11:38PM
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