During the spring and summer, one of the worst things you can do is begin trimming a shrub around your home before checking to see if it harbors a bird nest.
The reason of this is common backyard birds such as cardinals, brown thrashers and mockingbirds routinely nest in the thick shrubs growing around most homes. If you do not take this simple precaution, you stand the very real chance of exposing eggs or hatchlings to the weather and predators.
A few days ago, I decided to trim a loropetalum that had grown so tall it shrouded a window. However, before I cut the first branch I peered into the loropetalum’s thick foliage. There suspended between the plant’s tangled branches was a cardinal nest.
At first glance, the nest seemed to be little more than a tangled mass of twigs. However, as I looked more closely I could see that the female cardinal that had built this nest had also used a number of other building materials such as leaves, grasses, and strips of bark to fashion her nest.
The nest contained only one bluish white egg marked with brownish splotches. A gaping hole in the fragile egg indicated that a bird probably destroyed the egg. A number of birds will peck holes in the eggs of another bird. It was clear this nest was abandoned.
The fate of this nesting attempt was not surprising. It has been estimated that predators destroy upwards of 75% of eggs and young found in open nests such as this. In the case of the northern cardinal, studies have revealed only 15-37% of all their nests fledge young.
With such a low success rate, one might wonder why cardinals are so abundant around our homes. One reason might be cardinals nest as many as four or five times a year.
Since the nest in my loropetalum as was obviously abandoned, and cardinals typically nest in a different location each time they renest, I went ahead and trimmed the shrub.
On the other hand, if I had found the nest contained undamaged eggs or hatchlings, I would have put off my trimming for another day.
With nesting cardinals facing such overwhelming odds trying to raise a brood of young, the last thing I want to is increase their chances of failure. I know you feel the same way.