Identifying Bird Nests

Welcome to my identifying bird nests page. Here you will discover the secrets to bird nest identification and how this is used in falconry.



General Information On Bird Nest Identification

bird nest identification

Bird Nest identification is a fascinating and fine art. Many Ornithologists have become experts in this field and for them, being able to identify bird nests is absolutely integral to the continuation of research into raptors and all birds.

Identifying bird nests can tell us a huge amount about raptor habitat choice, diet, reproductive issues, habits and hunting techniques as well as migratory habits. All this information contributes to a huge amount of research being done on all species of raptor all year round.

Without this information from identifying bird nests, collecting enough evidence for research would be nearly impossible.

However, bird nest identification an identifying bird nests is not all about serious research. It is also a fascinating hobby and birdwatchers and ornithologists alike become very excited when prosing away on the subject.

It is certainly true that walking through a forest and finding a giant nest, being able to identify the species and then spending the day watching the parents feeding the young must be an exhilarating experience.

For me, having done a reasonable amount of falconry, seeing raptors and for that matter all species of birds in their natural habitat is a fantastic thing to watch. Therefore to be able to really be good at identifying bird nests would be a fantastic thing for any aspiring falconer.

As much as techniques of falconry have improved and been tested and tweaked over the years, still no one really can re-create the predatory perfection of a wild Hawk Bird , Falcon Bird, Eagle or Owl

Some Initial Thoughts On Identifying Bird Nests

bird nests northern goshawk

When starting out on a daytrip and hoping to find a bird nest to use your identifying bird nests skills of any kind, an important first thing to consider is the diet and natural habitat of the bird in question.

For now, I will stick with raptors as this is the main topic of the site, however of course this could count for all species of birds.

Basically, what I am rambling on about is the fact that anyone with common sense would not go looking for an American bald eagle nest or an osprey nest with no water in the vicinity. Of course, it is important to know that the fish eating raptors will always nest reasonably close to water.

Having said this, bald eagles especially can fly very large distances with little effort, so...”close” in Eagle terms is not necessarily the same as a humans perspective of the same word.

Another thing that we have to consider when identifying bird nests is, based on previous research we know that different raptors like to nest on or in different structures.

This is most apparent in the falcon family. Peregrine falcons rarely nest anywhere except for on cliff faces. If you are looking for a peregrine nest in trees then you are going to be out of luck.

Peregrine falcons however sometimes substitute their cliff “digs” for man-made structures. Many falcons have been seen nesting on tall buildings successfully. This is also due to the abundance of food in cities such as fat lazy pigeons that have eaten too much and themselves become “fast-food” redefined.

These falcons have become quite famous and there are now many projects in cities whereby the falcon nests are being watched by thousands of people around the world via webcams..(peregrine falcon Big Brother.)

To summarise...basically to be successful at identifying bird nests you have to have common sense and plan to a certain extent what you are going to do and where you are going to do it.

Perches And Plucking Posts When Identifying Bird Nests

A very good thing that we have on our side when trying to find an illusive bird nest and for identifying bird nests, is a hunting perch or plucking post.

This is a useful landmark in the world of certain raptors. This is down to the fact that birds of prey are very habitual creatures and love routine!

A good bird to look in a little bit more detail in is the Northern Goshawk. These birds above all others have a rather acute case of obsessive compulsive disorder and must always do things in the same way.

If you are looking for a goshawk nest when identifying bird nests, the best thing you can do is to use the hawks habitual actions to your advantage. Something that both Goshawks and sparrowhawks have is what is called a plucking post.

These accipiters feel the need to pluck a carcass meticulously of all its fur or feathers before actually eating it.

This behaviour is also seen with falcons, however the falcons don’t always return to the same place to perform this ritual. The true hawks always have a favourite place where they can pluck their kills. They usually use a tree stump or young sapling to perch and pluck.

One of the main stipulations of a plucking post is that it must be within a very short range of the nest. This is mainly because the hawk does not want to have to carry heavy prey a long distance once it is plucked and when bringing it for the eyass birds or the partner bird.

Plucking posts are easy to find. They are very messy places with a veritable pile of feathers scattered around the vicinity so they are hard to miss. Once you have found this area, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the nest.

Once you have found the nest, the hard part begins. Of course if you can see the parent birds, identifying the nest will not be too difficult. If however the nest is currently unoccupied or the parents are out hunting then maybe the following information can help!

Here is a video as well of some eyass goshawks and parents in their nest...



Specific Bird Nest Identification - Identifying Bird Nests





  • Northern Goshawk – accipiter gentilis

  • Distribution – very successful across northern hemisphere

  • Nesting Habitat – coniferous mature forest, medium to sparse

  • Preferred nesting site – tall mature trees

  • Nesting material – Forest materials, branches, sticks

  • Usually up to 9 different nesting sites are maintained

  • Clutch Size – 2-4

  • Eyass Goshawks are light grey – brown

    Golden Eagle – Aquila Chrysaetos

  • Distribution – very widespread in northern hemisphere

  • Nesting Habitat – Eyries on cliff faces or in high trees

  • Nests can be huge weighing well over a ton and 2 metres deep!

  • Nesting Material – Large Branches with grass and leaves to support

  • Many nest sites are maintained throughout vast territory

  • Clutch Size – 1-4 eggs

    Peregrine Falcon – falco peregrinus

  • Likes to nest in scrapes or digs in cliff faces usually very high up or man made structures such as buildings

  • Clutch size – 3 to 4 eggs

  • different nest sites can be very far from each other

  • Difficult to spot because usually high up and under an overhang

  • Best way to find the nest is to listen. Young peregrines are unbelievably loud!

    Coopers Hawk – accipiter cooperii

  • Much the same as goshawk nests in habitat and tree choice however slightly smaller and usually lower down, often in the fork of the tree.

  • Average nest size – 30 inches across and up to 20 inches deep

  • Clutch Size – 3-5 eggs

  • Preferred trees for nest – Oak, Pine, Fir, Beech

  • Adults are often very vocal at times of breeding much more so than other accipiters

    Osprey – pandion haliaetus

  • Nesting Habitat – fairly near to water, forks of large trees, rocky ledges, manmade structures

  • Very large nests – up to 14 are maintained and 5-9 are used per year

  • Nesting Material – Piles of driftwood, seeweed, branches and sticks, quite haphazard approach

  • Clutch size – 2-4 eggs

  • Both parents hunt and the nest conserves heat because of its size for the young ospreys

These are a few of the more sought after bird nests when trying to identify bird nests. This is the kind of list you need to make for yourself when going out to try to find one and with identifying bird nests... Planning is everything!

Bird Nest Identification In Falconry

identifying bird nests

For this section of the page I must admit I do not feel fully qualified to give advice on the subject. I am from the UK and so therefore it is illegal to trap wild raptors for use in falconry.

I am fully aware that there are many many extremely experienced trappers in the United States where the tradition of trapping your own passage or eyass hawk is just as important as the raising or imprinting and training of the bird.

If anyone reading this has extensive knowledge on the subject and can give an overview of trapping techniques and finding bird nests for use in falconry then I would really appreciate it.

However of course, if you are looking to find yourself an Eyass for use in falconry then of course it is very necessary to know what you are doing. Many falconers return to the same nest sites for many years and good parents are closely monitored.

When thinking of taking your eyass from the nest it is important to take it at exactly the right time. If you are thinking of imprinting your hawk or falcon then this will of course be earlier than if you are wanting a parent reared bird.

Especially when climbing up or absailing down to a falcon nest. You must always remember that you will need at least two of you to do it safely. Many falconers have been injured and even have died trying to get to that perfect peregrine falcon nest exactly half way up a towering chalk cliff.

Remember also that parent birds will not be too happy with you and you will be attacked. This goes for goshawks and other accipiters in particular. Some falconers record the sound of a hostile goshawk on tape and play it away from the nest to incite the parents into going after the “intruder”. Meanwhile they can safely climb to the nest and swipe an eyass.

Although it does seem rather unsportsmanlike to steal a baby from the nest, research has shown that this has no damaging influence on the wild population and in fact rather helps it. This is for a few different reasons...firstly. The eyass chosen is usually the smallest and weakest in the clutch. This means that this would be the chick that is killed by it’s siblings anyway.

In this way the falconer is saving the goshawk from almost certain demise. Another reason is that in USA (and not in UK) birds are often hacked back into the wild after a couple of seasons training and then can continue a strong genetic line.

In this way the falconry lineage is continued. I like the thought of this however it is very different from the European mentality of captive bred birds only.

Please feel free to browse the rest of the site. :) P.s I hope you have enjoyed my indentifying bird nests page, I hope that it has helped you with your bird nest identification questions and has given you an insight into the world of falconry.




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