Do Mother Birds Sleep in the Nest With Their Babies?

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Birds build nests for the sole purpose of laying eggs and caring for nestlings. Many birds can lay eggs more than once per year, and will either recycle or build a new nest each time. Outside of this nesting season, birds don’t sleep in nests or treat them like “beds”.  This may make you wonder if mother birds sleep in the nest with their babies during nesting season. 

Do Mother Birds Sleep in the Nest With Their Babies?

Yes, but not as much as you may think. Most mother birds will spend at least a short period of time sleeping in the nest with their babies. For the purposes of this article we will mainly be talking about songbirds and other species you may find in your backyard. Care of young can vary quite a bit between different types of birds and the size of the nests they build. 

Before hatching, the developing eggs must be kept warm and incubated. Birds can spend some time away from the nest, but must spend the majority of the day sitting on and warming the eggs. At night when the temperature drops, this is especially important. Birds will certainly spend the night sleeping on their eggs to make sure they stay warm and safe.

Sleeping in the nest after egg hatching

Many mother birds will continue to sleep in the nest for a few nights following hatching, when the babies are at their most helpless. At this point, they not only depend on mom for food, but usually don’t have any of their own feathers. Without feathers, they can’t keep themselves warm. She will use her brood patch and body warmth to nuzzle the newborns for a few nights until they grow a little larger and their downey feathers begin to come in. 

As the youngsters develop feathers, they can spend more time on their own. The babies will often huddle together and help keep each other warm. Young birds grow fast, and soon will take up most of the space in the nest. At this point mother bird will visit the nest with food throughout the day, and will sleep in a nearby tree branch at night. Unless it gets unusually cold, the babies are fine to sleep on their own. 

How Do Birds Keep Their Babies Warm at Night?

Before nestlings develop any feathers, they must be kept warm by one of the parents. Most of the time, mother birds are the ones who tend to their young and will lay on the nest to keep the babies warm.

Mothers must stay well-fed to fuel their body and maintain a healthy body temperature. Many songbirds have what is called a “brood patch”. The brood patch is a section on the lower belly that doesn’t have any feathers. This patch of skin has many blood vessels near the surface, and without feathers in the way the heat of the body can easily be transferred to eggs or babies. 

(Image: Robert Lynch | publicdomainpictures.net)

As a mother begins to develop eggs inside of her, the feathers that usually cover her brood patch will naturally fall off. After she is done taking care of her babies, the feathers will grow back in. In some species like ducks, mother duck may have to pluck the feathers off herself, and will use them as linking in her nest.

 If temperatures drop below freezing at night, mother birds will sleep in the nest with their babies. Once baby birds begin to develop feathers, they are able to generate body heat better and the mother will not sleep in the nest with them.

How Long Do Birds Spend in the Nest During Incubation?

Incubation times largely depend on the bird species. Some birds may only spend about 10 to 14 days incubating eggs before they hatch. Other bird species may incubate eggs for as long as three to four weeks before they hatch. 

During the incubation period, mother birds spend most of their days sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. If the eggs aren’t kept warm, this can interrupt the development of the embryo. Without proper incubation, the bird embryo may not survive. 

Birds that have shorter incubation periods are usually altricial species. This means that when the babies hatch, they are not developed enough to generate their own body heat and their eyes are still closed. Precocial birds are typically incubated longer and as a result, the babies have had more time to develop and are capable of being more independent upon hatching.

Since egg warmth is crucial for proper development, mother birds will stay in the nest for most of the incubation process. Mother birds may only leave the nest to feed or fend off predators in the area.

How Long Do Mother Birds Spend in the Nest?

After bird eggs hatch, mothers do not typically sleep with their babies or spend much time sitting in the nest. Females, and sometimes males, will stay in the area to keep a close eye on their young. The first week is a very crucial stage for nestlings. Most nestlings are very vulnerable for the first seven days after hatching and need constant care. Parent birds will perch in the same tree as the nest and only leave the nesting site to feed.

Birds that lay eggs in the early spring deal with colder freezing and frost temperatures. Some baby bird species are unable to regulate their own body temperature upon hatching and must be kept warm by one of the parent birds. In these cases, mother birds may spend some nights sleeping with their babies to keep them warm. Otherwise, parent birds will roost on a tree branch near the nest, but do not sleep in it.

Do Birds Sleep in a Nest Year-Round?

Birds do not build nests to sleep in for themselves. It might seem like a convenient spot to spend the night, like a little forest bed. However after the babies have left the nest, parents will leave the area also. 

If the nest is located inside of a tree cavity or bird house, that area may be used again during cold weather months as a roosting spot. But the typical nest you think of, the cup made out of twigs, is not used for adult birds to sleep in. Some species may re-use the nest to lay more eggs, but many build an entirely new nest.

hatchlings in a nest reaching up for food

Where Do Birds Sleep at Night?

Outside of the nesting season, birds will find a roosting site to rest for the night. Most birds will use the same roosting site every night, unless they feel threatened by predators in the area. 

Birds prefer nesting sites that provide them with protection and shelter from the weather. Common bird resting places include tree cavities that have been carved out by woodpeckers or other animals, birdhouses, or trees with thick foliage or shrubbery. Some birds, especially those in urban areas, will seek shelter in manmade structures like chimneys. 

Conclusion

Mother birds only spend a few days sleeping with the babies after they hatch. For the most part, they do not sleep in the nest with their babies unless the temperature is low enough to jeopardize the survival rate of the babies. The young grow feathers quickly and soon are able to retain their own heat. The most time a mother bird will spend sleeping in a nest occurs during the incubation period. Mother birds will sit on eggs for a majority of the incubation period, only leaving to find food or defend the nesting site from predators.

 

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About Mary Richardson

Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.