Wild birds are fascinating for many reasons. Just look at some of what they can do:
- Some can sing two notes at the same time.
- Many migrate thousands of miles, with a lot of those miles over open water.
- Various birds store countless nuts and seeds and remember their hiding places for months.
- Numerous species perform mating rituals that are nothing short of pageantry.
- Several types build and use tools.
It boggles the mind.
One more thing to add to their lists of accomplishments is an architectural wonder—the bird nest. The variety of bird nest designs might surprise you.
Depending on the species, female hummingbirds will choose a variety of places to build their nests. Ruby-throated hummingbirds choose a forked tree branch, bushes or plants with thick and thorny foliage, or a thin branch. When she’s found the right address, the nest can be as low as three feet or as high as 60, sometimes 90, feet above the ground.
See also: All About Hummingbird Nests
As you might imagine, to build their nests, hummingbirds use materials as small and delicate as their chicks whose eggs are no bigger than coffee beans:
- cotton fibers;
- fuzzy down from milkweed, cattails, thistles, and dandelions;
- discarded feathers;
- spider silk;
- fur and hair you sometimes see on leaves;
- small bits of bark or leaves.
When the mother-to-be finishes, she takes additional precautions to hide her nest by camouflaging it with lichen and moss.
There are a variety of weaver bird species and their nests vary in size and shape but, true to their name, weaver birds use grasses and other materials to weave their nests.
Tying knots and knitting grasses together like any human would, a male may weave a dozen or more nests each season. Each nest hangs from a tree branch like a large oval ball. It might take a bird all day to build one nest. You can watch a weaver at work here.
When a female decides his nest is worthy, he’ll finish the nest she selects by building an entrance that looks and functions like a tunnel—a design that makes it more difficult for predators. The female will then give it her unique touch by lining it with feathers or soft grass.
The Sociable Weaver
This weaver bird nest deserves special attention. If you found an apartment building in a tree, made of hay, with no recognizable shape, you’d have a sociable weaver colony.
Multiple generations of sociable weaver birds will use these nests for many decades. Like termite mounds that also need to tolerate the heat of the African sun, sociable weavers build nests that include complex ventilation and insulation systems that keep the interior of the nest cool during the day and warm at night.
After the breeding season, the weavers will sublet the apartment building/nest to finches, lovebirds, falcons, and other birds and animals.
White-Fronted Bee Eater
There are 22 species of bee eaters and all of them nest in holes they dig in the earth. They use their bills to dig and their feet to kick out the loosen dirt. Because the dirt needs to be hard enough not to collapse, but soft enough to dig, it can take several tries to get it right.
Sociable birds, white-fronted bee eaters live along the southern edge of the Savannah and dig large colonies of nests into cliffsides or banks. It’s not unusual to see a long stretch of embankment pot-marked with hundreds of holes occupied by generations of the same family. Some colonies have included thousands of nests.
The Red Ovenbird
Red ovenbirds are master architects. Working together, the male and female use a mixture of mud and grass to build their nest. As the mixture dries in the sunshine, the result is a thick, round, and sturdy structure that can take six weeks or more to complete.
Inside the nest is a wall that divides it into two chambers. Behind the wall in the innermost chamber, the female will lay her eggs. It’s an ingenious design since it is much easier to defend them, and later her chicks, from intruders.
Watch the construction of a red ovenbird’s nest here.
No matter the bird or the nest it builds, I can guarantee they’re all better constructed, more attractive, and longer-lasting than any tree house my friends and I ever built as kids.