Nesting for a happy family

2008-01-05 00:00

In human society, houses have many different styles and so it is in the bird world. The wide variety of bird species nesting in and around our garden led me to wonder what kinds of homes these residents build in order to keep their precious eggs and nestlings safe.

Some, it would seem, don’t care an awful lot! Doves and pigeons are a case in point — a bunch of twigs balanced precariously on what appears to us humans the most unsuitable and often most uncomfortable spot imaginable. You can see right through the nest from below; how draughty must that be? Somehow most of the brave little youngsters survive and thrive. The Hadedas must have watched the doves and decided that was the way to go, as their nest is simply a much enlarged version; still untidy and uncomfortable.

At the other end of the scale are the Cape White-eyes. They build an exquisite little cup nest, deep and cosy and often seemingly big enough for more than the two or three nestlings occupying it. Both parents join in the building operation and this can take up to nine days to complete. The nest is hidden away in a leafy tree and the lining is woven from fluffy grass, bits of wool, in fact anything handy and appealing.

The Paradise Flycatcher builds one of the most beautiful nests, a tiny and exquisitely fashioned little cup, usually in a fork near the end of a branch. The outside is decorated with bits of lichen, making it appear to be simply part of the branch — a clever ruse to confuse terrestrial predators. Unlike the relatively large nest of the white-eye, the Paradise Flycatcher seems to have a space-saving plan in mind. As the youngsters grow, they fill every available nook and cranny and towards the end of their nestling stage, sort of ooze out of the nest in a fluffy, feathery sort of way.

Weavers, as their name suggests, weave a wonderful basket to hold their precious cargo. Suspended from the end of a dangling twig, safe from all but the most determined predator, the brightly coloured males build these nests as a lure for their lady loves. I have Spottedbacked Weavers in my garden, and they all get together and nest alongside each other in a suitable tree; this polygamous species has to keep building more houses for extra wives.

Sunbirds have a different plan again — obviously lots of busy bird architects out there. This nest is a very delicate hanging purse with a side entrance, woven from little pieces of leaf, grass and plant down, intertwined with spider’s web. Spider’s web is said to be the strongest of all natural fibres and these lovely nests certainly give credence to this.

Then there are the Spotted Dikkops. They don’t bother with all this nest building, a simple scrape on the ground is good enough for them.

So you see, birds are similar to us in all wanting something a bit different to live in.

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