Mystery Nest

Tangled in a thicket at the edge of a wooded wetland, the nest stood out like the prize it was for hiking on a cold winter day. As readers of this blog know by now, finding and painting nests is a recurring theme and a true pleasure for me. In fact, the subject of my first post was a nest. But this one is quite unique—almost two nests combined, it seems to me. It’s possible that a nest begun by one pair of birds was co-opted by another species, as sometimes happens; or that mice took over after the birds were finished and piled an enormous moss blanket on top of the woven base (though I saw no evidence of rodents). Either way, it’s a fine mystery and I’m happy to have it live on inside my sketchbook.

Click to view larger

Click to view larger; “In the thin light of winter woods, we find the promise of next summer.”


If you have come across a nest similar to this or have ideas about what birds it may have belonged to, I’d love to hear about it. I can eliminate a lot of possibilities, but I’m stymied. The nest was 7 inches across with a 3 inch cup, constructed 5 feet off the ground at the edge of a wooded wetland in central Connecticut.

19 Comments on “Mystery Nest

  1. I have no clue what kind of neat it is, but you painted an awesome representation of it! Very nice!

    • Thanks Carol! I found a very similar bark nest in the same place last year, but the moss takeover is what makes this one so interesting.

  2. You come across the most wonderful finds–and then render them so beautifully! I hope someday you will create a book of your sketchbook pages! They make me happy, as well as inspire me.

    • Hi Susan- Isn’t this a good find?! I have to remind myself in winter to still get out there and explore. I’ve been thinking more and more about doing a book; what the focus might be; how to approach it, etc. We’ll see…

  3. Jean, I have a large collection of nests that I have painted in the past; one nest had been built on top of a former nest but I don’t know the species of either birds. It was found deep in a large evergreen bush. Looking at your nest painting (very well done and lovely) it appears there are thin strips of bark and some small branches or twigs intertwined through the bulk of the nest. It might help to research on line for info which species of bird uses those type of fibers to build their nest; also, you should be able to obtain the dimensions of nest that particular bird builds; they are usually consistent in their architectural designs.

    The nest that you painted reminds me of one that is still resting in a fork of three branches of a salmon berry bush. It was constructed several years ago and now it is so covered with green moss the fibers used for the construction cannot be seen. I have never seen a rodent take over a bird’s nest except that the squirrels do enter and nest in human constructed wood bird’s nests.

    One nest I painted was found under a strip of cedar bark hanging freely from the trunk of the tree for over and protection. The nest was finely constructed of very fine strips of bark and the shavings from my neighbor’s lathe. I researched birds that nest under bark strips and use fine shavings for the nest. I happily found the results but can’t remember the name of the bird at this moment.

    I enjoy the challenge and details of painting birds’s nests. Most of the nests I painted were found on the property where I live; I made sure the nest had been abandoned before removing it to paint.

    • Thanks for your detailed notes. I did some research online and didn’t find a satisfying match. Also consulted an ornithologist friend who was a bit stymied, too. He suggested the best way to find out might be to return in spring and see what birds are in that location. The bottom half of this looks similar to catbird nests I’ve seen, but I’m less sure because of the moss. It is interesting to see the variety of materials that birds use. I have a nest box that house sparrows used this year and their nest is quite a mix of stuff. Makes me want to head back out and find more– except it’s snowing hard here today!

      • The ornithologist friend had a good suggestion to return in the spring since most birds return to the same spot for nesting. I’ll tell you this: Once you start watching for bird nests it becomes an obsession to spot one while out walking! A few of my friends have brought me nests from their yards. I’ve noticed the juncos love to build their nest in the fuchsia hanging baskets. They are well hidden deep in the base of the plant but do get doused with water a few days a week.
        My goal is to find a hummingbird nest this year; they are fragile and tend to decay before winter approaches.

      • Good luck with finding a HB. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed, but I am definitely on the lookout when I am out and about.

  4. I enjoyed the way you captured the delicate nature and color of the moss.

    • Thanks Kirk. I used a spray bottle to get the edges to bleed a little and brightened the color a bit to match living moss, as the moss in the nest was fairly dead. A couple of layers of green helped the moss take shape and have some texture.

  5. We would rarely see one low enough to observe this detail, here. Did you sketch on site or take home a photo?

    • All of the above. A photo taken on site helped me with the light and shadow, but I needed the nest itself for much of the detail.

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