Why nest early?
Generally, birds which nest early in the season are in a stronger position to take advantage of the early resources; as the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm. However, data from a national study conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) shows that a large range of species are now breeding up to 31 days earlier than they were in the 1960s. As this is so early, it runs the risk of the birds going hungry, due to lack of resources.
Climate change is driving this shift, and it affects different wildlife in different ways, causing the ecosystem to become unbalanced. Chicks are ready to be fed before the insects they will need to eat emerge, causing them to go hungry. However, for some species nesting that little bit earlier is just their way of life, for various reasons. Read on to find out why.
Crossbills don’t just have a twist in their bill, but also in their breeding behaviour. Found in the conifer forests of the north they begin breeding in January and sometimes even earlier. By the time other birds have entered the breeding season and are incubating eggs, crossbills are already a highly mobile family. Their diet is based on conifer seeds, which is responsible for the erratic population increases of the species and no doubt plays a part in such an early breeding season.
The raven is a very well-studied yet somewhat misunderstood bird. Famed for its role in Edgar Allen Poe’s Poem, The Raven, it has strong associations with unkindness and death. It is also among the UK’s earliest nesters, nesting in late February. It pairs for life, so doesn’t waste time each year searching for a mate.
These cute fluffy birds start building their extravagant and complex nests in February, and can take up to three weeks to complete them. They use lichens, cobwebs and moss to build the nest, lining it with feathers. However, long-tailed tits don’t normally lay their eggs until early April, so technically aren’t the earliest of all the nesters.