Birdbrains

I see lots of birds on my runs. Grackles, robins, crows, red-winged blackbirds, herons, swans, ducks and, of course, geese. What I don’t often see are birds’ nests. When I see them on the ground, I pick them up and take them home. I have two on the mantle.

Today I saw quite the nest. It was unusual in many ways. For one thing, it was built in low shrubs, maybe four feet off the ground. At first I took this to indicate a lack of intelligence (or, at the very least, survival instinct) on the part of the nest builder.

Then I noticed other aspects of the nest that made me revise my initial assessment. For one thing, the nest was of an extremely robust construction. It was a small nest, presumably built by a small bird. But it was made out of very sturdy twigs, some of them up to a quarter inch in diameter. Not only that, but it was built in such a way as to be interlocked with the criss-crossing shrub branches that served as its structural foundation. The only thing missing was a cantilevered beam.

The twigs were intricately woven, in some cases with nubs along the twig being used as “catches” to hold the twig in place between other twigs. I have no idea how a small bird could have flown with such large twigs and then maneuvered or levered them into position.

Also, the nest was strategically located between two natural barriers. On one side was a large body of water (a section of the Bronx River that opens up into something resembling a big pond). On the other side was a wall of thorny shrubs. I had to carefully move these aside, branch by branch, to get to the nest.

The nest had other features. It had pieces of torn plastic woven into the inner twigs, perhaps serving as insulation or even a thin barrier to lay atop the twigs, making for a more comfortable place to sit. I also saw a few pieces of dryer lint integrated into the construction. I leave out tufts of such lint for birds, and I always wondered if they actually use it. Now I know that they do. Maybe this was our lint.

I think birds are probably a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

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