Birds, far more than any other animal besides man, are notable for their tendency to build a home in which to raise their young, and in some cases to use all year round. However, birds are not the only animals to make a nest; fishes, mammals, insects and spiders also build nests, sometimes quite complex ones, for rearing young and for their own general protection. For this discussion, a nest is anything constructed by a bird or where a bird lays its eggs. This is the broadest possible definition and allows us to understand the full extent of bird nesting habits. Bird nests range from non-existent to extensive, multi-chambered apartments which can be fully weatherproof and may last for years or even decades. Nests come in a wide range of categories, the following groups cover most nests you will find. Some of these 12 categories are quite small, others are large containing a huge diversity.
Before building a nest the pair have to decide where to build a nest. This is called 'nest site selection' behaviour. Different species go about this in various ways, in many species both partners work together to decide on the site. Birds in this category include many gulls. In some species, though the pair work together the female takes a definite lead on the proceedings, i.e. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and surprisingly the Red-necked Phalarope (Phaleropus lobatus). This is surprising because once the site has been chosen the female lays her eggs and departs, leaving the male to do all the incubation. In other species such as the Dunnock (Prunella modularis) the female chooses the site and builds the nest. In contrast, with Blue tits (Parus caerulea), European Sparrows (Passer domesticus), and Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes), it is the male who chooses the site and then tries to attract the female to it. The male Wren is a bit of a workaholic and builds several nets, normally 4 or 5, but up to 12. The female chooses one of these and the male uses another to roost in. Just to prove that variety is the spice of life, Scottish Crossbills (Loxia pinicola) show no definite patterns. In some couples the male leads, in others the female.
The second behavioural activity is material collection and building. These range from 'sideways throwing' - a simple single movement to get nesting material to the nest, this is limited to ground nesters only. 'Sideways building' is similar but involves more care in the placing of the material and results in a better constructed nest. Sideways throwing and sideways building are exhibited by many ducks, geese, gulls, petrels, pheasants swans and waders.
Physically carrying material to the nest site is the next step up and is carried out by all the remaining nest building birds. At the simplest it is shown by penguins carrying a stone in their bills few metres to the nest site. At its most complex it involves birds searching out for particular substances such as cobwebs and feathers to bring to the nest.
is brought to the site it needs to be incorporated into the nest. For
ground nesting species this can be as simple as just picking it up.
For tree nesting species, it usually involves some degree of interweaving
the individual items until they form some sort of matrix. This can be
fairly straight forward in the platform nests of pigeons, but reaches
great sophistication in the weavers where material is actually sown
together, where a considerable degree of manipulatory skill is needed.
Whatever the type of nest, watching a bird build one is a fascinating
and rewarding experience.
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