Not all bird species build nests. Some species lay their eggs directly on the ground or rocky ledges, while brood parasites lay theirs in the nests of other birds, letting unwitting "foster parents" do the work of rearing the young. Although nests are primarily used for breeding, they may also be reused in the non-breeding season for roosting and some species build special dormitory nests or roost nests (or winter-nest) that are used only for roosting. Most birds build a new nest each year, though some refurbish their old nests. The large eyries (or aeries) of some eagles are platform nests that have been used and refurbished for several years.
In most species, the female does most or all of the nest construction, though the male often helps. In some polygynous species, however, the male does most or all of the nest building. The nest may also form a part of the courtship display such as in weaver birds. The ability to choose and maintain good nest sites and build high quality nests may be selected for by females in these species. In some species the young from previous broods may also act as helpers for the adults.
Not every bird species builds or uses a nest. Some auks, for instance—including common murre, thick-billed murre and razorbill—lay their eggs directly onto the narrow rocky ledges they use as breeding sites. The eggs of these species are dramatically pointed at one end, so that they roll in a circle when disturbed. This is critical for the survival of the developing eggs, as there are no nests to keep them from rolling off the side of the cliff. Presumably because of the vulnerability of their unprotected eggs, parent birds of these auk species rarely leave them unattended. Nest location and architecture is strongly influenced by local topography and other abiotic factors.
King penguins and emperor penguins also do not build nests; instead, they tuck their eggs and chicks between their feet and folds of skin on their lower bellies. They are thus able to move about while incubating, though in practice only the emperor penguin regularly does so. Emperor penguins breed during the harshest months of the Antarctic winter, and their mobility allows them to form huge huddled masses which help them to withstand the extremely high winds and low temperatures of the season. Without the ability to share body heat (temperatures in the centre of tight groups can be as much as 10C above the ambient air temperature), the penguins would expend far more energy trying to stay warm, and breeding attempts would probably fail.
Some crevice-nesting species, including ashy storm-petrel, pigeon guillemot, Eurasian eagle-owl and Hume's tawny owl, lay their eggs in the relative shelter of a crevice in the rocks or a gap between boulders, but provide no additional nest material. Potoos lay their single egg directly atop a broken stump, or into a shallow depression on a branch—typically where an upward-pointing branch died and fell off, leaving a small scar or knot-hole. Brood parasites, such as the New World cowbirds, the honeyguides, and many of the Old World and Australasian cuckoos, lay their eggs in the active nests of other species.