Nature’s Unusual Nest Makers

Many people can identify nests in the wild, especially if they are home to a common bird species. But did you know about these unusual nest makers in the animal kingdom?

Animals create nests for a whole host of reasons. Perhaps it offers security from predators, or shelter from harsh weather conditions. Possibly it’s a safe spot for a wintertime hibernation. Or maybe it’s a place where eggs can incubate undisturbed for several weeks.

Understanding what types of animals make nests – and the purpose behind it – can help preserve the world’s unique species and habitats.

Spectacled Bear

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Photo credit: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo

Spectacled bears – also known as Andean bears – make nests high up in the trees. They gather materials on the ground (like sticks, grass and leaves) and carry them up into the branches, skillfully weaving together a nest-like platform. Spectacled bears might take a nap in their tree nest or eat ripened fruit from a branch. While they give birth and hibernate in caves, nests offer this vulnerable bear species a safe place to eat, sleep and relax in South America’s cloud forest.

Cuban Crocodile

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Photo Credit: Matt Evans and Barbara Watkins, National Zoo.

Before a Cuban crocodile female lays her eggs, she will build a nest near her freshwater habitat. This mound is often as deep as ten inches, and is created from dirt and leaf materials. When she is ready to lay her eggs – a Cuban croc can lay up to 40 eggs in one clutch – she will bury them deep within the nest, where they will incubate for 60-90 days before they hatch. Although this species is highly aggressive, a Cuban crocodile female will answer to her baby’s call for up to one year. While there are several factors contributing to the rapid decline of Cuban crocodile populations in the wild, the destruction of wetlands in its restricted range is a core cause.


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Photo Credit: Jodi Kendall, taken at Turtle Back Zoo.

Hedgehogs make nests out of moss, leaves, brushwood, compost heaps and area vegetation on the outskirts of forests and in suburban gardens. This nest provides a safe haven for the hedgehog during its cold weather hibernation period. They have also been known to sleep through extreme heat in desert habitats. Throughout the rest of the year, the mostly-nocturnal hedgehog will nap in its safe nest during the daytime. When it rests, a hedgehog curls up into a ball, so its prickly coat keeps predators at bay.

Adélie Penguin

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Photo credit: Samuel Blanc

In the springtime, Adélie Penguins take to Antarctica’s coastline by the thousands. They build nests on the rocky beach, lining them up with small stones. When she is ready, an Adélie penguin will lay two eggs in her nest. During breeding season an Adélie penguin must keep a watchful eye on her nest, as other penguins in the colony might try to steal a pebble or two for their own nesting site.

Find nest-builders fascinating? Check out this newly-discovered rare bee flower nest and the nest-guarding behavior of the round goby fish