When we found this hummingbird nest in our serviceberry tree a few years ago, it was fun to watch the tiny eggs hatch and the babies grow. (Photo/Kylee Baumlee)

Colder temperatures and gusty winds have done their job of ridding the trees and shrubs of their leaves. Most of them, anyway. Some oaks and beeches like to hang onto their leaves long after the others have begun their process of decomposition to enrich the soil below.

Garden experts will tell you that once the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, it’s a good time to take a look at their structure. When the weather has turned reliably cold and they’ve entered dormancy, you can get the pruners and loppers out and do some reshaping.

This is also a good time to be observant about what living creatures have made the trees and shrubs their home. Normally well-hidden by summer’s lush foliage, nests are revealed. It can be fun to try to identify their owners.

One of the most obvious in our own trees are the nests of squirrels. Though they appear messy, the assemblage of leaves, twigs and moss makes for a surprisingly sturdy nest, called a drey. They’re warm too, with temperatures inside occupied nests found to be more than 60 degrees warmer than ambient air temperatures. Squirrel dreys are most often found high in oak, red maple, and beech trees, which are also food sources for them.

Robin nests are easy to identify, due to their expert craftsmanship by the females. The nesting materials can be small twigs, grass, feathers, paper, and moss, held together in the finely formed cup by mud. The inner lining consists of fine grass. Robin nests can be found in the lower half of trees, usually under dense leaf cover, but they’re also known to make nests in light fixtures and under eaves.

If you’ve got a good eye, you may find a tiny hummingbird nest. I knew they were small, but I didn’t realize just how small until I came across one at eye level a few summers ago. They measure approximately two inches in diameter and one inch deep, with eggs about the size of a small jelly bean. These nests, held together with remnants of spider webs, are not only difficult to spot because of their size, but also because they are camouflaged by lichens the female applies to the outside.

We look forward the return of the Baltimore orioles each spring, often hearing them before seeing them. They have one of the most recognizable nests in the bird world. Found high in the treetops, toward the end of the branches, oriole nests resemble hanging socks. These pouches are formed using plant fibers, especially those from milkweed plants, due to their strength.

Another common finding is the egg case (called an ootheca) of a praying mantis. These are formed low on tree and shrub branches and appear as one- to two-inch long lumps of spun brown sugar. The female lays her eggs in the fall and they will emerge in early summer, with tiny mantids numbering anywhere from 50-200.

More commonly found in our area are the non-native Chinese and European mantids, which are larger and greener than our native Carolina mantis. Many advise destroying the oothecas of these migrants, as they are thought to be displacing our native species. They are also less selective about their prey and have been known to occasionally eat butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as dining on other mantids.

When our Washington hawthorn trees lose their leaves, their beautiful clusters of red berries are revealed. If we’re fortunate enough to get a little bit of snow before the robins find the berries, there can be some stunning photo opportunities.

The next time you’re out and about, or even just looking out the window, see if you can locate and identify evidence of the wildlife with whom you share your little space of earth.