10 Remarkable Birds' Nests
Sociable weavers (Philetairus socius) are endemic to Southern Africa and build some of the most spectacular nests of any bird.
They construct large permanent nests on tall structures such as trees or telegraph poles that are big enough to house over a hundred pairs of birds.
The nests consist of several chambers and while the central rooms retain heat and are used for roosting at night, the outer rooms maintain a temperature of just 7 degrees Celsius and are used for shelter during the day when temperatures outside can reach as high as 33 degrees Celsius.
The nests, which are the largest built by any bird and look like massive haystacks amongst the trees, are made from soft material such as twigs, dry grasses and other plant material and sticks may be positioned at the entrances to deter predators.
Montezuma oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma) are new world tropical birds found in the Caribbean coastal lowlands.
They breed in colonies and build woven nests from fibres and vines high up in isolated trees. The hanging basket like nests can be up to 180 cm long and there are usually about 30 nests in each colony but over 150 have been recorded. They will often build near wasps’ nests to deter potential predators.
Each colony has a dominant male who will mate with most of the females although some of the subordinate males are also able to mate away from the main colony.
Eurasian Penduline Tit
The Eurasian penduline tit (Remiz pendulinus)is the only species of its family to be found outside Africa and it is widespread across Europe although a rare vagrant in the UK.
Eurasian penduline tits are one of the most skillful nest builders of all European birds forming structures so strong that they have been used as purses by the Masai in Kenya and as children’s shoes in Eastern Europe.
The male bird begins the construction of the pouch-shaped nest by attaching plant fibres and fluffy seeds to the tips of willow or birch trees which the female will help him complete.
Edible-nest swiftlets (Aerodromes fuciphagus) are small birds that are found in South-east Asia.
They construct their nests from saliva, which are used to make bird’s nest soup and are one of the most expensive animal products eaten by humans with an average nest selling for about £2000.
Edible-nest swiflets breed in colonies with the shallow cup-shaped nests attached to the rock of caves, cliff faces or sometimes buildings.
The nest is white and translucent and is constructed from layers of hardened saliva that can take over a month to complete. The nests are rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium and it’s claimed they have numerous health benefits.
The red ovenbird or rufous hornero (Furnarius rufus) is the national bird of Argentina and can be found across South America.
Red ovenbirds build nests that look like clay ovens, which are situated on trees or other tall structures such as fence posts or telephone poles.
The dome-shaped nests are constructed from mud and although they can be built in as little as 5 days they usually take much longer to complete up to a few months.
Ovenbirds will sometimes use old nests or build new nests over old nests so several are stacked on top of each other.
Hamerkops (Scopus umbrella) also known as hammerhead storks, umber birds or anvilheads are medium-sized wading birds that can be found in Africa from Madagascar to Arabia.
They construct impressive nests that measure over 1.5 metres across capable of supporting a man’s weight. The nests are made from over 10,000 sticks usually built in the fork of a tree but sometimes on a cliff, wall or dam.
Hamerkops decorate their nests with brightly coloured objects and line them with mud to insulate and protect them from water. Both sexes construct the nest and they can build up to 4 a year working all year round whether they are breeding or not.
Gila woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) live in the scrub regions of the Sonoran Desert across southwest America and western Mexico.
Gila woodpeckers build their nests in excavated holes about 5 cm across between the ribs of saguaro cacti or mesquite trees by pecking through the skin of the cactus. They then burrow downwards to create a space for their nests.
The cactus responds by secreting a sap that hardens over time to create a hard shell that prevents the cactus from losing moisture but also protects the nest. The shells are known as a “boots” and were used by Native Americans of the Seri group to store or carry water. It is illegal to collect boots from the wild in Arizona.
European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster )breed in southern Europe and parts of north Africa and western Asia. They have attempted to breed in the UK at least 5 times, most recently in 2015 in Cumbria.
They build their nests by digging out a horizontal cavity in the sand of a river embankment using its bill to drill a hole and then burrowing through the sand with its feet to create a tunnel up to a metre long.
At the end of the tunnel is a nesting chamber where the bee-eater lays up to seven eggs. Both male and female excavate the tunnel and European bee-eaters are one of the few European birds who have nest helpers. These helpers are usually sons of the breeding pair or brothers of the breeding male that have failed to breed earlier in the year and help with feeding the brood.
Common tailorbirds (Orthotomus sutorius) are songbirds found across tropical Asia. They are shy birds that hide in vegetation with a loud call which draws attention to their presence.
They build their nests by using their beaks to stitch together the edges of a large leaf with silk or plant fibres. The nest is then constructed in the cradle of the leaf and lined with soft foliage. Edward Hamilton Aitken, a civil servant who lived in India in the late 19th century was able to entice tailorbirds to use cotton for their needlework.
Tailorbirds are mentioned in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, a short story in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and are described thus; “It was Darzee, the tailor-bird, and his wife. They had made a beautiful nest by pulling two big leaves together and stitching them up the edges with fibres, and had filled the hollow with cotton and downy fluff. The nest swayed to and fro, as they sat on the rim and cried.”
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), a sea eagle found in North America is the national bird and animal of the United States of America which appears on its seal. In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extinction but numbers have since recovered and it has been removed from the list of endangered and threatened species in most states.
Bald eagles build the largest nests of any living bird; the largest nest was found in St Petersburg, Florida in 1963 weighing almost 2 tonnes and measuring 2.9 m wide and 6 m deep.
Both male and females build the nests which are sited in tall trees and constructed from interwoven sticks lined with grass, stalks, moss and feathers. It can take up to 3 months to complete the nest and as long as the pair have been successful at breeding they will return to the same nest year after year.