Some birds build their nests. Some birds use abandoned nests other birds have built. I am going to give the latter category of bird the benefit of the doubt and assume that when they move into a found nest, they usually think it is uninhabited.
Louisa and I have been watching the National Arboretum Bald Eagle Nest Cam quite a lot and a couple of red-tailed hawks have recently been eyeing the bald eagles’ nest with the seeming intent of taking it for themselves. Scoundrels! It seems to me that the hawks know darned well the nest is not vacant.
Can you imagine how outraged the eagles must be? They designed, built and have maintained their nest for years. How irritating it must be to have to defend it from would-be thieves (don’t worry if you missed the livestream footage of the eagles defending their home – there is a video on YouTube you can still see).
Long ago I saw a similar scene: two downy woodpeckers came home to find their nest occupied by two tufted titmice. Alas, the woodpeckers appeared to be on the losing end of that conflict. From what I witnessed the tufted titmice were not going to move out. How frustrating it must have been for the woodpeckers to need to go peck a new nesting-cavity out of a different tree. Hopefully their new home was better than the one they lost – a possible silver lining. A girl can always hope!