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Mud Nests

Mud is often a common resource and it makes sense that birds somewhere should have evolved to use it for nest building. Birds usually carefullly select the site / source of mud as the its needs to have the correct properties to ensure the nest does not fall apart. Mud nesting species often re-use their nests for successive clutches or succcessive years.

Flamingos, the Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) and Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), are well known and colourful birds which build very basic nests of mud. In the middle of the soda lakes of Africa, you can find both species building up piles of mud and faeces. These structures are basically a hollow mound with a depression in the centre. They are not built all at once, but some mud is built up above water level and as this dries more is put on top. They can be as much as 45 cm high. There is no lining in these nests except the mud.

Many birds build cup-shaped mud nests which rest on boughs of trees. These nests often have straw or grass mixed in with the mud making them stronger when dried, much like ancient bricks. Normally, these nets are lined with grasses, leaves, moss and feathers. Some examples of cup mud nests in trees are the Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca), and the Willie-Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) from Australia. Two other Australian birds, both communal breeders, the Apostle bird (Struthidae cinerea), and the White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos) also build mud nests. In East Africa the Spotted Morning Warbler (Chichladusa guttata) also builds cup nests.

A number of birds build more unusual mud nests. In southern Europe the Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer) builds a large mud nest on the sides of cliffs that looks like a rounded volcano on its side, i.e. if the cliff was level ground the volcano would be the right way up. In S. America the two species of Rufous Ovenbird (Furnarius rufus) and Crested Hornero (Furnarius cristatus) build perhaps the most complicated mud nests of all. The nests are globular and often situated on tree stumps. They are about the size of a football. On one side is a domed entrance which leads to a passage which curves around the left hand side before going into the central chamber. The inner chamber is well lined and comfortable looking.

The best known mud nest builders are the Hirundines. Swallows and Martins all over the world labour during the Spring to build their hemispherical nests on the edges of cliffs and under the eaves of houses. The mud is collected in small pellets and moistened with saliva before being applied to the wall or existing nest. Swallow (Barn Swallows - Hirundo rustica) and Martins, in Europe at least, build only in the morning, spending the afternoon feeding, this means that each day's work gets a chance to dry out and become strong before new mud is added. If this did not happen the whole thing would collapse under its own weight. Like other mud nesting birds, the nest is normally lined with dried grass and feathers.

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Most information on this page was contributed by EarthLife.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003