Bluebirds have been at it for weeks, and hummingbirds will be at it soon – nesting and feeding baby birds.

It's part of the magic of the spring season, an annual ritual that never grows old or boring.

Why do birds nest where they do – in shrubs, tree cavities, houses or the flowering basket on your porch?

"Why birds select certain nesting sites and materials is only known to them," says Rock Moeslein, assistant education director at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News.

"The selections have worked for hundreds of thousands of years so the process is now hard wired and instinctive to the birds. It happens because it works."

If you find a baby bird on the ground during nesting season, the best thing for the bird is to leave it alone, advises Moeslein.

"The parents are aware that the young bird is not in the nest and will feed it," he said.

"Most birds leave the nest before they can fly, because the nest is an egg holder, not a holder of hungry, moving, pushing young birds. I have seen young birds barely covered in feathers being fed by their parents away from the nest."

If a nest is on the ground with young birds or eggs in it, you can gently place it in a nearby tree. Wear gloves because some nests could contain feather lice, Moeslein said.

If the eggs were exposed to the weather for any length of time, they will probably not be alive. The parents will generally build a new nest elsewhere. If there are young birds, check the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Wildlife Rehabilitators and locate a licensed animal rehabilitator for information. Go to for a list of licensed rehabilitators.

To welcome birds to your yard, you can help with nesting needs. Items such as clean, soft pet hair, wool or cotton fibers and dryer lint are often available at home, and can be put outdoors where birds can easily find the material, Moeslein said. Similar items can be purchased at local birding, gardening and pet stores.

In addition, you can install functional birdhouses that also add decorative touches to the landscape. Make sure the boxes are easy to clean annually, and select houses meant for the birds you want to attract.

You can also garden for the benefit of birds by avoiding chemicals that kill the insects they like to feed on, and landscape with plants that benefit their needs for shelter, food and nesting.

"The greater variety of wildlife living in our neighborhoods generally means that the environment is a healthier one for them and for us," Moeslein said.

"Growing a variety of plant life in the area will also encourage a healthier number of different birds for all of us to enjoy."

Best nesting birds

How some of the more common local birds nest and what they like for nesting materials along coastal Virginia, according to the Virginia Living Museum, include:

Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

•Nest habitat: thickets, brushy fields, hedgerows and wood borders where the nest is placed inside heavy foliage.

•Nest materials: dry leaves, small twigs, grass stems, grapevine, inner bark and rootlets.