Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Assessing nest building in mice


For small rodents, nests are important in heat conservation as well as reproduction and shelter. Nesting is easily measured in the home cages of mice, particularly with the advent of pressed cotton materials. The mice first shred the tightly packed material, then arrange it into a nest. Published studies have often used materials such as hay, twine or tissues, sometimes preshredded, and have assigned scores of the quality of the resulting nest with rather rudimentary rating scales; e.g., 0, no nest; 1, flat nest; 2, nest covering the mouse. The protocol described here uses pressed cotton squares and a definitive 5-point nest-rating scale. Any unshredded material left after a bout of nesting can also be weighed, providing a semi-independent objective assay of nesting ability. Nesting has been shown to be sensitive to brain lesions, pharmacological agents and genetic mutations. This is a simple, cheap and easily done test that, along with other tests of species-typical behavior, is a sensitive assay for identifying previously unknown behavioral phenotypes. The test needs to be done overnight, but it should take no more than 5 minutes to set up plus 1 minute to assess one nest and weigh the untorn residue.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Assigning scores to nests.


  1. 1

    Lisk, R.D., Pretlow, R.A. & Friedman, S.M. Hormonal stimulation necessary for elicitation of maternal nest-building in the mouse (Mus musculus). Anim. Behav. 17, 730–737 (1969).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Van de Weerd, H.A., Van Loo, P.L.P., Van Zutphen, L.F.M., Koolhaas, J.M. & Baumans, V. Strength of preference for nesting material as environmental enrichment for laboratory mice. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 55, 369–382 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Koller, G. Der nestbau der weisser Maus und seine hormonale Auslosung. Verh. Dt. Zool. Ges. Freiburg 160–168 (1952).

  4. 4

    Voci, V.E. & Carlson, N.R. Enhancement of maternal behavior and nest building after systemic and diencephalic administration of prolactin and progesterone in the mouse. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 83, 388–393 (1973).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Deacon, R.M.J., Croucher, A. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Hippocampal cytotoxic lesion effects on species-typical behaviors in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 132, 203–213 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Deacon, R.M.J., Penny, C. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Effects of medial prefrontal cortex cytotoxic lesions in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 139, 139–155 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Numan, M. Medial preoptic area and maternal behavior in the female rat. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 87, 746–759 (1974).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Slotnick, B.M. & Nigrosh, B.J. Maternal behavior of mice with cingulate cortical, amygdala, or septal lesions. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 88, 118–127 (1975).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Cunningham, C. et al. Synaptic changes characterize early behavioural signs in the ME7 model of murine prion disease. Eur. J. Neurosci. 17, 2147–2155 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Kim, J.J. et al. Selective enhancement of emotional, but not motor, learning in monoamine oxidase A-deficient mice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94, 5929–5933 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Lijam, N. et al. Social interaction and sensorimotor gating abnormalities in mice lacking Dvl1. Cell 90, 895–905 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Bond, T.L., Neumann, P.E., Mathieson, W.B. & Brown, R.E. Nest building in nulligravid, primigravid and primiparous C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mice (Mus musculus). Physiol. Behav. 75, 551–555 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Numan, M. & Sheehan, T.P. Neuroanatomical circuitry for mammalian maternal behavior. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 807, 101–125 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Gammie, S.C. Current models and future directions for understanding the neural circuitries of maternal behaviors in rodents. Behav. Cogn. Neurosci. Rev. 4, 119–135 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Schneider, C.W. & Chenoweth, M.B. Effects of hallucinogenic and other drugs on the nest-building behaviour of mice. Nature 225, 1262–1263 (1970).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Estep, D.Q., Lanier, D.L. & Dewsbury, D.A. Copulatory behavior and nest building behavior of wild house mice (Mus musculus). Anim. Learn. Behav. 3, 329–336 (1975).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Deacon, R.M.J. Burrowing in rodents: a sensitive method for detecting behavioral dysfunction. Nat. Protocols 1, 118–121 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by grant GR065438MA from the Wellcome Trust to the Oxford OXION group.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert MJ Deacon.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Deacon, R. Assessing nest building in mice. Nat Protoc 1, 1117–1119 (2006).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing