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holes in the ground
Hole in the Ground Nests

Many birds nest on the ground with nests of varying degrees of complexity but far fewer nest within holes in the ground. Nesting in holes would seem to be a better strategy than nesting in the open. One survey of over 180,000 eggs revealed that where non-hole nesters averaged 50% rearing success, hole nesters averaged 70%. Two main sorts of holes can be distinguished; those which open onto a cliff edge or a vertical edge of a river bank, and those holes in relatively flat ground. A second plane of division is between those birds which dig their own holes and those which make use of holes dug by others.

Commonly recognised birds which nest in cliff edge holes include House Martins (Delichon urbica)and Sand Martins (Riparia riparia)and the widely distributed European Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Other Kingfishers such as the Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) several parrots in the S. American genus Conure and the Ground Woodpecker (Geocoloptes obroceus) of S. Africa also nest in cliff edges. More unusual are D'Arnoud's Barbet (Trachyphorus darnoudii) and the White-whiskered Soft-wing (Malacoptila panamensis) which nest in holes dug into flat ground. These sorts of nests may all be lined to some extent and are generally dry well-protected homes.

Excavating your own holes, of course, is hard work and many birds are happy to take possession of someone else's efforts. Thus the Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) among several ducks, and the Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), prefer to nest in abandoned rabbit holes. Not as pleasant as this, Cinclodes sp. and Sharp-tailed Stream Creeper's (Lochmias nematura) nest in rodent burrows. In the latter case the burrows are often in the edges of open sewers giving the bird the nickname 'President of Filth' in Brazilian shanty towns.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003