What's Nesting in Your Backyard?
Strolling around the neighborhood or the woods this time of year, you see lots of bird nests, no longer hidden by foliage.
Avian Architecture will identify the birds that made those nests and give you lots of fascinating insights about how those birds design, engineer, and build the nests. And I’m not exaggerating when I use the word fascinating. I found this book, written by Peter Goodfellow and published by Princeton University Press in 2011, to be amazing.
First, the gorgeous photos will grab your attention, 300 gorgeous full-color shots. My mouth fell open when I turned to the introduction and saw the African Masked-Weaver, hanging upside down from its nest. Wow!
This book is thorough. Each chapter opens with an overview of a type of nest, presents real blueprints, lists the materials and other features, describes the building techniques, and finishes with case studies demonstrating how different species adopt their nest type to specific habitat. I was engrossed by it all.
And don’t worry. It’s not all about African birds! In fact, chapter one includes Piping Plovers, a very important (and endangered) species here in Maine, whose “scrape nests” are mere shallow indentations in a beach, making them very susceptible to predation. Bad building plan!
Wait ‘til you see the Black-capped Chickadee, peeking out of its hole in a dead decaying tree, in chapter two. I’ve always wondered where they nested.
As the Maine legislature embarks on a debate about a relaxation in protection of waterfowl nesting habitat, the chapter on aquatic nest structures should be required reading. Important stuff!
After the leaves dropped last October, I noticed a cup-shaped nest in low bushes behind the house. Turning to Avian Architecture, I quickly identified the nest as belonging to a Yellow Warbler – exactly the bird Linda and I noticed many times in our backyard. Bingo!
Then there are the “Velcro” nests that are elastic, expanding along with the chicks. And all this time, I thought the Shakers had invented Velcro! Nests are built almost entirely with the beak. And the males of some species build up to a dozen nests, hoping that one will draw the interest – and attendance – of a female.
I was especially excited to learn that two species construct edible nests – used in bird nest soup – but alas, they exist only in Southeast Asia. Not sure I’m daring enough to try eating a bird’s nest, anyway.
You probably recognize an Oriole nest, suspended from the fork of a twig hanging from the highest branch of a tall tree. We have an old elm in the front yard that Orioles particularly favor. But I didn’t know, until reading this book, that those intricate nests are constructed using tens of thousands of stitches and rapid shuttle movements. The illustration of this technique is very interesting.
Avian Architecture is a hardcover sizeable book, hefty in the hands, glorious throughout, and will add immeasurably to your enjoyment of Maine’s great outdoors, especially if you are a birder. Even if you are not, a walk around the back yard will be enhanced by what you learn in this book.