With leaves gone from the trees and the breeding season well and truly over, winter can be a great time to search for evidence of last year's baby boom.

You might notice the dense shape of cup nests still sitting snugly in bare, forked branches. Strong winds may knock old nests from trees and shrubs. And gardeners trimming hedges before the new season starts often come across nests otherwise concealed by last year's growth.

But how can you tell which species of bird built the nests left behind? Let's take a closer look at the nests of seven birds that may have raised young in a garden near you. 

Don't forget

It is an offence to disturb nesting birds under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The breeding season is March to August, although some nesting can take place at other times. Take care when investigating nests to ensure they're not in use, and avoid hedge cutting during this time.

1. Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Nest shape and appearance

Robin nests are thick and cosy, with the mossy base often enlarged to fill the cavity or ledge the nest is built upon.

Materials

The base of the nest is made of leaves and moss. The nest cup is often lined with hair.

Likely location

Usually fairly low down among climbing plants or thick shrubs, often using a ledge as support. Sheds and other outbuildings are sometimes used, as well as open-fronted nest boxes.

Old eggs or eggshells

Pale and heavily freckled with tiny, reddish brown flecks, often concentrated towards the blunt end of the egg.

2. Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Nest shape and appearance

Blackbird nests are fairly large and heavy-looking, with wide cups for the eggs and chicks.

Materials

Mostly woven from dried grasses but also moss and small twigs. Instead of feathers or hair, the nest cup is simply lined with grass.

Likely location

Often found in shrubs, hedges or climbing plants such as clematis, rarely much higher than head height. 

Old eggs or eggshells

Pale greenish blue and freckled with reddish brown flecks.

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3. Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Nest shape and appearance

Song thrush nests are dense and sturdy-looking, with a wide cup for eggs and chicks.

Materials

The base is made from grasses, twigs and moss, but the defining feature is the lining of dried mud in the nest cup.

Likely location

Usually relatively low down in thick shrubs and hedges.

Old eggs or eggshells

Green-blue with dark speckles, which are more defined than on blackbird eggs.

4. Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)

Nest shape and appearance

Fairly large and messy, sometimes with quite a loose construction.

Materials

Usually grass and moss with a lining of hair or feathers.

Likely location

Prefers to nest near to other greenfinches, often in evergreen hedges or shrubs such as leylandii.

Old eggs or eggshells

Smooth and white, delicately flecked with dark markings.

5. Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Nest shape and appearance

Goldfinch nests are neat and compact, with a deep cup to help keep eggs secure in high winds.

Materials

The mossy base is bound with grasses and spider silk. The nest cup is heavily packed with fluffy materials such as wool, feathers and downy thistle seeds.

Likely location

Often built in the fork of tree branches, usually fairly high among more slender, outer branches. They can be quite exposed to the elements!

Old eggs or eggshells

White with a small number of reddish-brown speckles.

6. Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Nest shape and appearance

Dunnock nests are somewhat flatter than other nests on our list with a shallower nest cup.

Materials

A foundation of twigs and moss with a soft mossy lining.

Likely location

Often well-concealed and found low to the ground among thick bushes.

Old eggs or eggshells

Bright blue and lacking in spots or freckles.

7. Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)

Nest shape and appearance

A messy and haphazard platform. Mostly flat with no lining. The loose construction often leaves gaps for light to filter through.

Materials

Large twigs and sticks.

Likely location

Often in the forks of tree branches, as though placed during a game of kerplunk.

Old eggs or eggshells

Smooth and white.

More on birds and nesting

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