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No Nests

The simplest nest of course is no nest at all. Quite a few birds do not build any nest at all, though they do make a choice of where to lay. Beyond this is a simple scrape in the ground. Nightjars (Caprimulgidae) do not make even a scrape. They lay their two eggs directly onto the ground. While Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) lay simply on some trampled vegetation. Many waders, such as Plovers, lay in a simple scrape on bare ground, relying on the cryptic colouration of their eggs to protect them from predation.

Some of the more unusual examples of no nest laying include the Potoos (Nyctibius spp.) which lay their single egg on top of a broken off tree stump. The bird then sits on top of the stump with its head pointing to the sky. In this position it looks like an extension of the dead timber. It generally chooses stumps of similar diameter to itself. Even trickier are the 'nests' of Fairy Terns (Sterna nereis), another species which lays only one egg. The egg is laid on a branch on a rock face, generally on an area too small to support 2 eggs. Laying the egg in a position where it won't roll off is tricky and young birds often lose their first attempts before they get the hang of choosing a safe spot. Fairy Terns have two adaptations to help them survive this seemingly precarious nesting habit - the adults have evolved to be very careful when settling on and getting off the egg - both sexes incubate the egg. The second adaptation is that young Fairy Terns have disproportionally large feet and very sharp claws which help them hang on.

The master of no nest nesting, however, has to be the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). These birds nest in the Antarctic during winter when the temperature can fall to less than -30 C. They nest well inland and when the female has laid the single egg she leaves for the coast to feed. Meanwhile the male has immediately taken over care for the egg by moving it up onto the top of his feet. He has special folds of skin on his belly which enfold the egg keeping it safe against all the severity of the elements. Here he stays, a living nest with an egg on his feed for the next 60 days without a meal or much movement until his mate returns and the egg hatches. During this time he has maintained the internal temperature of the egg at 40 C, as much as 80 C higher than the surrounding ambient temperature.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003