Building Time in Birdland
HOW would you feel if you had to build a new home every year soon after arriving from a trip that took you hundreds of miles? What would your attitude be if this new home could be of use to you for only six or seven months? That is exactly what birds of all kinds do every spring in the northern regions of our earth!
Enthusiastically they dart about collecting various materials to use in building cozy nests to house their future little ones. Moved by their God-given instinct and using only their bills as a fashioning tool, these birds embark on an amazing building program.
Those That Do Not Build Nests
Not all birds, of course, go into the nest-building business in the springtime. Some return to old nests, make any necessary repairs and then take up residence in them once again. Other birds do not bother to build a nest. Among these are certain sandpipers and killdeer. The females of these species are content simply to lay their eggs on the ground, where moss and leaves form a scanty nest. However, divine wisdom has compensated for the danger that this might present. The young of these birds are born covered with down and are able to run about. So when they break out of their shells, they dry their down in the warm sunlight and then scamper off to a place of safety.
The murre is another bird that does not trouble itself with nest-building activities. Mother murre has the unusual habit of laying her eggs on sloping ledges. You might think that this would be the last place on earth where a bird would lay her eggs, for there is the ever-present danger of their rolling off to a shattering end below. But the Creator of the murre has cared for this possibility. The murre’s eggs are shaped like a top and have a tough shell that does not break easily. Now, how does all this serve as a protection?
A bird fancier’s experiment while observing the murre answers this question. He let one of their eggs roll down the slope. He reported that the egg did not roll straight but swung around like a top and came to a standstill with its hard shell intact. Not one egg of this tapered shape rolled over the ledge. Only an intelligent Creator could have devised the shape of these eggs as a means of keeping them safe on those sloping ledges where they are laid!
Nighthawks and black skimmers also spare themselves the work of nest construction. The nighthawk merely lays her eggs, which have a protective color, on bare ground, on gravel, the top of a rock, or even the flat graveled roof of some city building. As for the black skimmer, she simply squats down in loose sand and turns around and around, making a slight hollow in which to lay her eggs. Quite a labor-saving method!
Home for Nest-building Birds
The sites where nest-building birds choose to set up house are as varied as the birds themselves. Even among the same species, nesting sites vary considerably.
The wren family provide a remarkable example of this. The male bird starts the building off by erecting a crude nest. Then he goes to another site and constructs another one. And how he gets carried away with this! He will build a crude nest in every suitable spot in his domain. Later, when his mate arrives, he takes her around on an inspection tour of these prospective nest homes so that she may select one that suits her fancy. Then she proceeds to throw out his sticks and build a nest according to her taste.
And just what are some of the places where Mr. and Mrs. Wren have set up house? Investigations have revealed that they use woodpecker holes, birdhouses, fish baskets, clothespin bags, old shoes, tin cans, hats, an old automobile radiator, yes, they have even settled into a leg of a pair of pants, a bathrobe pocket as well as a pair of swimming trunks! Evidently, for the wrens, housing is no problem!
It is interesting to note that the crude nests that Mrs. Wren rejects are not torn down. One authority suggests that these nests serve to discourage other prospective homeseekers from entering the wrens’ domain. Why? Because the wrens raise a large family, the food requirements for which are tremendous. So the immediate vicinity around the wrens’ nursery with its food supply must be kept free of any competition from other families with hungry mouths.
Now, consider another relative in this family, cousin cactus wren, a desert dweller. This fellow’s instinct moves him to locate his nest in a place that does not encourage traffic, yes, the thorniest section of the uninviting cholla cactus. There his globular nest is well guarded by thorns that are like so many swords poised to pierce and cling to any that carelessly brush against them. And another cousin, the rock wren, sets his nest in rocky crevices, often using small stones to form a pavement leading to his entrance. The marsh wren, still another relative, constructs his well-camouflaged home deep in the vegetation of the marshlands.
That ever-popular spring favorite, the robin, assembles his nest in a variety of places. He uses branches or crotches in trees; bushes, porch vines, rose arches, fence posts, stone walls, nooks on buildings, bridges, boats and wagons as well as nesting shelves set up by some kind human. The height of these locations has been observed to vary from a few feet to seventy feet from the ground.
Perhaps the strangest nesting site of all is that of the dipper, a tiny water bird that is a year-round resident of the far western mountains in North America. This creature often assembles his nest right in the spray of a cataract, or sometimes even behind the cataract where the only possible entrance is right through the falling water! Or he builds it in among tree roots or in a rock crevice near the cascading water. Just the right spot for a bird that delights in walking underwater!
Building Materials and Nest Shapes
Birds’ nests are fascinating things. Something about them seems to invite, yes, beckon you to come and take a closer look. Persons who have found an abandoned one cannot help but marvel at its architecture. Though woven with primitive materials and held together by mud, a nest is by no means a flimsy affair, for it will usually withstand rain and high winds, remaining firmly anchored to the spot where it is built. There it will keep its precious cargo of eggs safe in all kinds of weather. And to think that a little creature by instinct put it all together using just his bill as a building tool!
What are some of the materials that these winged creatures use to construct their amazing nurseries? Some of the items are twigs, grass, leaves, bark, feathers, human and horse hair and mud used as a binder, sometimes strengthened by bird saliva. The inside of the nest where the eggs lie is generally lined with soft materials such as moss, cobwebs, down from cottony plants, yarn and even lint from a clothes dryer!
The dipper’s nest, which is made up of grass, leaves and twigs, features green moss. This bird is most particular about the condition of the moss. It must be kept green to camouflage his nest, which is more or less spherical in shape, measuring six or seven inches in diameter. It is said that these birds will at times spatter waterdrops from their wet wings to keep the moss looking fresh and green if there is not enough moisture where their nest is located.
Ovenbirds build a very interesting nest. Its characteristics are responsible for the bird’s name. A roof of bark strips, leaves, grasses and other matter is built over it as an arch. The entrance is on the side rather than the top. This makes the entire structure look somewhat like an old-fashioned rounded oven.
A remarkable nest is that of the Baltimore oriole. Using only her bill for a needle, Mrs. Oriole will weave a pear-shaped pouch out of plant fibers, hair, moss, bits of soft string, yarn and so forth at the tip of a high-swinging branch. So durable is this nest that remnants of it often cling to the branch tips three or four years after it is abandoned. Truly, bird craftsmanship of high quality!
Chimney swifts construct saucer-shaped nests inside hollow trees or chimneys that resemble semicircular wall shelves. They form them by assembling tiny twigs and joining them together with their glue-like saliva that hardens when it is exposed to the air.
Speaking of adhesives, the robins use natural mud as a cement for their nests. If none is available, they have been known to make it by filling their bills with dust and then dipping them into a birdbath. Or they may wet their feathers and shake off the drops in a dusty place.
Indeed, building time in birdland is a delightsome time, refreshing the soul of those who would take time to look in on the activities. By being alert to note how and “where the birds themselves make nests” one may be moved to praise and thank the loving Creator, Jehovah God, for these winged gifts to mankind.—Ps. 104:1, 16, 17.