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.

10 Responses

  1. I saw a bunch of ducklings on Saturday, near the Bronxville “lake.” Don’t know that I’ve ever seen them before.

  2. We often find Beau’s hair in bird’s nest we find nearby. Sometimes we even see the birds collecting the soft white hair. They use it for the final lining in their nests.

  3. I’ve often wondered how a bird starts a nest. They’ve got one twig in their beak — what do they do with it? Do they lean it against another twig held by their partner, then rush and grab a third twig?

    Crows are smart, as are Aussie magpies. The magpies like walking. You’ll see them walking across a road and keep walking as a car approaches. If they sense they can walk and make it, they’ll keep walking. If they sense the car being too close, they’ll fly.

  4. I collect bird nests, too. Of the two I found this spring, one is very tiny, maybe 3 or 4 inches in diameter and the inside is lined with hair/fur – very soft. The other one is extremely sturdy with mud packed into it. I wish I knew which birds built which nests.

  5. For me, it’s smarts versus instincts. I think nest-building is an instinct, not a learned skill.

  6. You really leave lint out? If so, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. I never expected you of all people to evoke an “aww” from me. Of course there’s the chance that you’re just pulling my chain.

  7. The bird is oké and the nest is bulding nice, how they do it?.
    Have a nive weekend.
    Rinus.

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