barn swallow

8 Birds That Build Mud Nests (with Photos, ID, & Info)

Birds are known for their intelligence and ability to build complex nests. They often use twigs, leaves, moss, or even mud to create a home for themselves and their young. In this article we will explore 8 different types of birds that build nests out of mud. 

Purple Martin

purple martin
Image by jnelson from Pixabay

Purple Martins are migratory birds that come to North America every year during the springtime. They live near water so that they can catch fish, and other aquatic creatures for food. Purple Martins will start creating their nests in the summer.

These birds also have an unusual way of building their nests! Purple Martins will build their nests by using mud, grasses, sticks, feathers and even pieces of plastic to construct the shape of the nest. These nests are often built in clusters called colonies, which have up to 100 different nests!

  • Length: 7.5″- 8.0″ in.
  • Weight: 1.6-2.1 oz (45-60 g)
  • Range: North America, Central America, and the Caribbean islands.
  • Habitat:  Backyards, farmlands, rivers, lakes, marshes, or ponds.
  • Diet: Dragonflies, mosquitoes, flies, moths, beetles, wasps and ants.
  • Number of Broods: 1-2 broods.
  • Clutch size: 4 – 6 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 16 days.

Related Post: How to Attract the Purple Martin to your yard?

House Martin

House Martin
Image by Sue Rickhuss from Pixabay

House Martins are migratory birds that spend the winter in warmer climates and fly back to their summer homes when spring arrives. These small birds like to build nests on ledges, porch ceilings, or any other high surface. They can use mud from wet soil, or mosses found near water sources as a building material for their nest.

House Martin adults will gather twigs, grasses, feathers and downy materials while flying around during the early morning hours of each day. Nests are often built in sheltered areas such as buildings, sheds or trees, and may be reused from year to year.

  • Length: 5.0″ in.(12.7 cm)
  • Weight: 18 g (0.65 oz)
  • Range: Native to Eurasia and Africa (but have also been introduced in North America, Australia, New Zealand, South America.)
  • Habitat: Urban areas, open fields.
  • Diet: Insects and other invertebrates.
  • Number of Broods: 2 – 3 broods.
  • Clutch size: 4 – 5 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 14-16 days.

Black-billed Magpie

The black-billed magpie is a common bird of North America, and they are most often found in the eastern half of the continent. The magpies live in forests, towns, and even parks; as long as there is an ample supply of food nearby. These beautiful birds have many unique qualities, but one of the most interesting is how they use dirt to make a home for themselves and their young.

A black-billed magpie’s nest is made from mud, sticks, mosses, and pine needles that they find on the ground. Nests can be found in various places, such as in trees or on the ground.

  • Length: 18″ – 24″ in.
  • Weight: 165–215 grams (5.8–7.6 oz)
  • Range: Southern Canada, Alaska, and the northwestern United States.
  • Habitat: Open country with scattered trees or other tall vegetation such as shrubs.
  • Diet: Insects, berries, but also some seeds and grains.
  • Number of Broods: 1 Brood.
  • Clutch size: 6 – 7 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 16 -21 days.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe
Image by ronin2435 from Pixabay

The Eastern Phoebe is a small bird that typically lives in eastern North America during the spring through fall months (mostly nesting from April to September).  The female Eastern Phoebe builds the nest out of mud on the ground, or tree limbs, and creates it as a cylindrical shape with an opening at the top for her eggs to enter.

She can be seen gliding around collecting materials such as leaves, grass, moss and clay for lining. The male helps out by catching insects to feed his mate while she gathers the building materials for their home. 

  • Length: 6″ – 7″ in.
  • Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (14-20 g)
  • Range: United States, Canada, and Mexico.
  • Habitat: Typically near water sources such as rivers and lakes.
  • Diet: Insects such as flies, beetles, ants and bees as well as spiders and snails.
  • Number of Broods: 2 Broods.
  • Clutch size: 2 – 6 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 16 days.

Rufous Hornero

rufous hornero
Image by elmonje1881 from Pixabay

The Rufous Hornero is a bird found in Central and South America. The name “Rufous” comes from the Latin word for reddish-brown, which describes its plumage coloration. The Rufous Hornero is often seen as it builds its nest by sticking together small pieces of mud with twigs to form an enclosed bowl shape.

The birds make their nests in trees or shrubs, on cliff ledges, or in low vegetation near water sources. In addition to nesting sites near water sources, the Rufous Hornero also prefers habitats with plenty of grasses and thickets which provide shelter from predators.

  • Length: 7″ – 8″ in.
  • Weight: 1–2.0oz (30 – 57.5 g)
  • Range: Southeastern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and northeastern Argentina.
  • Habitat: Grasslands, and agricultural areas where there are scattered trees or shrubs.
  • Diet: Figs, grapes, bananas, oranges and mangos, but also will eat some insects like beetles or wasps.
  • Number of Broods: 2 Broods.
  • Clutch size: 3 – 4 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 15 – 18 days.

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow
Image by TootSweetCarole from Pixabay

Cliff swallows are a North American bird that uses mud to build their nests on cliffs, bridges, or buildings. The nest has an outer layer of mud for protection from the weather and predators. It also protects eggs and chicks inside the nest by making it hard for animals to reach them. The inside of the nest is lined with feathers, grasses, leaves, rootlets, horsehair-like material or, straws.

They start building in April and May with their nests being completed by July or August.  Cliff swallows build their nests by scooping up mud and flying to a place on the ground where they can pour it out. The birds form circular walls around themselves as they sit in the center of the mound, which is eventually covered with feathers and grass for insulation. 

  • Length: 5.1″ in.
  • Weight: 0.7-1.2 oz (19.8-34.0 g)
  • Range: North America, South America, and Eurasia.
  • Habitat: Cliff habitats, usually close to water. 
  • Diet:  Mainly eat insects, but they also will occasionally eat berries or other fruit.
  • Number of Broods: 1 – 2 Broods.
  • Clutch size: 1 – 6 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 12 – 17 days.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow
Image by Susanne Edele from Pixabay

Barn Swallows, members of the Hirundinidae family, are one of the most common birds in North America. They live primarily in marshes and other wet areas that provide food for them to eat and a place to build their nests.  Barn swallows build their nests by scooping up wet, moist mud from the ground, and molding it into a bowl-shaped nest.

Barn swallows are not picky when it comes to building materials; they will gather anything from twigs and leaves to small rocks and pieces of plastic to help strengthen the nest. The birds use these found objects in order to create an effective barrier against the wind and rain, but most importantly against predators. This whole process can take anywhere from 3-4 days for them to finish! 

  • Length: 6.0″ – 7.5″ in.
  • Weight: 0.5-0.7 oz (14.1-19.8 g)
  • Range: United States, Central America, and Canada as well as portions of northern South America.
  • Habitat: Large forests, residential areas, golf courses, airports, farms, lakes with tall trees and plenty of open space.
  • Diet: Insects and small animals such as frogs and lizards.
  • Number of Broods: 1 – 2 Broods.
  • Clutch size: 3 – 5 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 13 – 17 days.

Related Post: How to Attract Swallows to my yard?

Cave Swallow

Cave swallows,  are small birds that use the rock walls of caves to create nests. The Eastern North American range for these animals is an area that spans from Alabama to New York, with no known sightings west of the Mississippi River. Cave swallows have been seen building nests with mud. The female bird will form a cup-shaped nest with mud in which to lay her eggs and incubate them.

This is done by taking up earth, and bat guano in the bill, and slowly letting it fall from the bill while holding onto some of it, and at the same time molding it into shape. They will also use other materials like feathers or bits of grass stems, or pieces of bark.

  • Length: 4.75″ – 5.5″ in.
  • Weight: 0.67 oz. (19 g.)
  • Range: East Texas to Florida, and north into the southern Appalachian Mountains. It has also been spotted as far west as Nebraska. 
  • Habitat: Rock ledges of cliff faces or under overhangs near caves.
  • Diet: Mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies, dragonflies, damselflies, mosquitoes, spiders, beetles, and crickets. 
  • Number of Broods: 1 – 2 Broods.
  • Clutch size: 1 – 5 eggs.
  • Incubation period: 15 – 18 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Sparrows build mud nests?

The sparrows use nearby dirt, grass, moss, leaves or bark to make a bowl-shaped structure. Sparrows will than line their nests with soft fibers, hair or feathers for extra insulation from harsh weather conditions.

Where do Phoebes nest?

Phoebes nest in cavities such as old woodpecker holes, or abandoned buildings like barns, under overhangs, or sheds, but also choose to nest sites that humans provide for them such as nest boxes.

What month do birds lay eggs?

The time of year when backyard birds lay eggs is largely dependent on the type of bird. Some birds will start to lay eggs in February and others will wait until late spring or early summer. For example, robins typically lay their first egg in April, while cardinals can start as early as March or as late as May.

Do Robins use mud in their nests?

Do Robins use mud in their nests? Robins are well known for the beautiful nest they build out of twigs and grasses. They are also well known for using mud to line the bottom of their nest, creating a more comfortable environment for themselves and their eggs. 

How do birds make mud nests?

A bird typically starts by looking for mud or wet dirt near a water source, such as an open puddle or stream. They then take their beak to create an indentation in the ground before dipping it into the water and gathering some of it on their beak to mold into tiny balls which they carry over to their nest site and place them around its edge. They then use their beak to push and flatten the mud until it takes a rough form.