A Marvel of Nature Birds and Their Nests

Swallow nest

Nest of the swallow. Securely attached to the wall. Photograph-N.P.S.photo
Nest of the swallow. Securely attached to the wall. Photograph-N.P.S.photo

Avian Architecture-a Marvel of Nature.

The nest of wild birds are as diverse and varied as any man made structure. Man utilises a plethora tools as he strives to construct his dwellings, to make them as perfect as he is capable of. The feathered fraternity, however, have but one tool to construct there dwellings, their beak and the materials that nature has to offer.

It is true that some birds do not build any such dwellings, for example the cuckoo. This bird flies to the U.K. from Africa every spring and seeks out the nest of other birds. The female is capable of laying 25 eggs per season in the nest of other birds, relying on them to rear her offspring{ at the expense of their own}. Indeed after the cuckoo lays her egg she takes no further part in the raising of her young, she will never even see the egg again.

Barn owls, like owls in general, lay their eggs on just a bare ledge or other crevice, often on their own waste pellets. The peregrine falcon is also of that ilk. The wood pecker and the nuthatch lay their eggs on the bits of wood that are a result of their excavation of nest holes. The nuthatch may add a few dry leaves. Others such as the stone curlew just scrape a hollow in the ground relying on camouflage to protect her eggs and young. This is true of many ground nesting birds. In fact this is the reason that almost all female birds have a much duller plumage than the males.  The wood pigeon will build a twiggy platform so poorly woven together as to allow the eggs to be seen from below. Sand martins and kingfishers will tunnel into their chosen location to lay their eggs in a chamber at the bottom of the tunnel.

The gooseander, Mergus merganser, will use no other material than the down from her own body. However, many species of birds to make cosy, often intricate nests. It is these  nests and their avian architects that I will endeavour to introduce to the reader.

A Sample of Nest and Eggs of U.k. Species.

I will start this account with the wren, Traglodytes troglodytes. After the goldcrest this is the U.K.s smallest bird. Considering the small size of the proprietor, the nest is a very ambitious structure, being of large dimensions and domed, with a small entrance hole. Moss is commonly used inn its construction but the material generally used is what ever comes to hand and where dead leaves or straw are available these will be used. They are lined with feathers to form a comfy receptacle for the eggs. Nests are encountered without any feathers being present, these are build by the male and there may be as many as five or six in his territory to entice as many females as possible, for this dapper little bird is far from faithful to one partner. Indeed he may have four females rearing his young in different abodes around his territory. The eggs numbering from 4-12, are white and scantily spotted with rusty red, sometimes all over, but more usually at the larger end. they are to be found early in the year and two broods are normal, from each hen.

The nest of the wren inspired William Wordsworth to pen these words---" Among the dwellings formed by birds, in field or forest with nice care,-Is none that with the little wren's in snugness can compare"

The nest of the chaffinch is considered by many to be a typical example of beautiful avian architecture. It is commonly located on a bough of a tree, at no great height from the ground, but it may also choose a bush or a hedge in which to build. They seem to prefer a moss grown tree an old apple trees in gardens seem to be particularly favoured. The nest is an open cup, beautifully rounded and neatly compact. it is made of moss and wool very closely woven together and lined thickly with dry grass, feathers and hair. On the outside it is decked with lichen and thus, blends in very nicely with lichen clad boughs on which it is placed. However, this is thought to be coincidental, for sometimes they may be found in situations where the lichen makes the nest conspicuous, but other materials may be used such as confetti that is thrown at weddings, which of course does not blend with any natural environment.

The chaffinch lays four to five eggs and as a rule they are very unlike any other British bird, for they are generally recognisable at once by their peculiar colour, grey with dark brown spots surrounded by a reddish colouring. It gives the illusion that the surface has been absorbent and the colour of the spots had "run" and stained the shell. Occasionally, however, a less characteristic type may be encountered being pure blue and unspotted. Or blue with the typical spotting. The nests may be located from late April and a second later in the year.

The nest of the swallow is mentioned because this bird chooses the dwellings of man as a nesting place, either under the eaves of houses, porches, barns and other structures. Virgil's line of Latin roughly translates as " The twittering swallow nests beneath the beams" The nest is usually placed as near to the roof as possible and prefers to construct on a ledge or shelf. However, it in no inconvenience to them if they have to build against the edge of a wall. The nest is a half cup open and constructed of mud, saliva, and with bents of grass or straw to bind it together. The mud is collected from puddles or other such-like situations. The lining is of hay and feathers. The bird has adapted so well to man's buildings that they hardly ever use natural places such as caves, in this country. The nest adheres to the wall well after the young have left confirming how strongly the construction is. The eggs of the swallow have a white background and are spotted with grey and brown. four to six form the clutch which is usually produced about a month after the bird arrives in April with another brood occurring later in the year..

Next on my list of avian architecture is the carrion crow, this is a bird that builds a large nest which is open and cup shaped made chiefly of twigs and consolidated with mud. Nothing remarkable in that ! But it gets my vote for being strong enough to stand anything the summer weather can throw at it despite it sometimes being in a precarious position upon the bough. It is also made well enough to see out the storms of winter and after some repair work may well be used to raise their young for several years in succession.  It looks very rough from the outside but it is perfectly put together. The lining is made of wool and hair as well as grass. It seems to make a point of using animal hair on which to lay its eggs. 

The eggs in number and general appearance resemble those of the rook but they are larger. The background colour is of a sea green, spotted more or less heavily with brown.  Four to five form the clutch and the incubation period is around 18 days, with the female doing most of the sitting. The carrion crow nests later in the year than the communal rook, and only produces one brood per year.

Conversely the nest of the wood pigeon is a flimsy affair usually placed on the bough of a tree but may also be found in a shrub. They seem not to be particular about choosing a particular location. The nest is simple, a rough platform of twigs often woven so thinly that it is possible to see the eggs from below. The eggs are two in number and are white. they can only be told from the eggs of feral pigeons by their slightly larger size.

In common with most pigeons the male sits by day and the female from evening time until morning is well advanced. Eggs may be laid from early spring and they continue to breed well into autumn. The young are remarkable for their threatening demeanour when disturbed.

Now for the most intricate nest of all birds in my opinion, that of the long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus,.This very peculiar and beautiful nest of this quaint little bird may be found almost anywhere. It may be happened upon in the twigs of shrubs, trees or creepers, and either high up or within reach. The nest is domed and oval, with the entrance at the upper extremity.It is very well made the outside being constructed of moss, wool lichen and spider's web. The inside is thickly lined with feathers. The number of feathers found in a single nest is truly amazing with records of up to 2,000 individual feathers being recorded. The bird when sitting on the nest manages to pack itself in by folding its long tail over its back.

The eggs are very small, smaller than any other British bird bar the goldcrest. They are white, usually scantily peppered with tiny red and mauve specks, and sometimes just a wash of reddish colour over the white. Another interesting fact about this species is the number of eggs that may be encountered in the nest. This can be anything from six up to twenty. However, studies have revealed that any more than a maximum of eight is likely to be due to two hens laying in the same nest. The study of these birds also revealed that a male is commonly associated with two hens. It is not unknown among birds but it is unusual to share the same nest.

Thus I end my small sample of birds and their architectural skills, which is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  

Top. Male Chaffinch. Below. Wood pigeon

the chaffinch builds a beautiful nest. photo courtesy of TheGuardian
the chaffinch builds a beautiful nest. photo courtesy of TheGuardian
the nest of the wood pigeon is a flimsy affair. Photograph by Sannse.
the nest of the wood pigeon is a flimsy affair. Photograph by Sannse.

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