Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nests of All Kinds

They rest, float, hang. They’re scraped, found, dug, hung. They’re formed of pebbles, sticks, living plants, horse-hair, reed, stalks, mud, anything at all. They are often reinforced, wedged between branches, carved out of living cactus plants, and suspended or glued using spider-silk. Most are hidden or carefully camouflaged; in some the bird seals itself in and is fed by its mate through a slit. Some are rudely appropriated from groundhogs—and some the most visible feature of the landscape as you look up—or of the urban skyline in a town, provided of course that its population tolerates birds. More on that in a moment. My subject is Avian Architecture, the title of a new book (June 2011) by Peter Goodfellow, just recently published by Princeton University Press. Brigitte saw a review of it intriguing enough so that we bought a copy then and there. It has given us great pleasure and we recommend it to anyone interested in the natural world—and as Sidney Lanier once put it, in the greatness of God:

As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.
         Sidney Lanier, The Marshes of Glynn
Goodfellow is a retired English Teacher, birdwatcher, and author of other books on birds. Avian Architecture has wonderful pictures but is much more than a coffee-table book. First, it’s short, 160 pages. Then it is organized into twelve chapters—each one about one of the major categories of nests. Goodfellow divides his chapters into an introductory text with illustrations, a spread with “blueprints” that lay out the schematics of the nest-type under discussion. Next comes a spread on materials used and special features. Then follow case studies of different species, in all manner of environments, and how they deploy this type of nest. Fascinating stuff. And, indeed, one cannot help but wonder about the creation of such marvelous ways of hatching eggs and raising chicks.

We grew up in Europe in smaller towns and therefore grew up with stork nests. My first experience of one was in Tirschenreuth, in Germany, where a nest sat on top of Tirschenreuth’s famed church, Mariä Himmelfahrt (Mary’s Assumption). A stork nest was evidently continuously present on that church since the nineteenth century, although not always on the church’s roof. It now has its home on the roof of the vicarage, as shown in the photograph. You may have to click on the photo and then enlarge it to see the nest well. Sometimes humans participate in nest-building too. This particular stork’s nest has a steel platform installed there with some effort, using a fire-engine crane, in 2009, to give the storks (they arrive unfailingly in Spring) a better home.

To show another kind of highly visible nest, the picture on the left shows the suspended nests of the Crested Oropendolas. They are black birds, with blue eyes, yellow beaks, and have a long, vividly yellow tail. Goodfellow classifies such nests under the category of Hanging, Woven, and Stitched Nests and covers them in wondrous detail in Chapter Eight. The one I’m showing is a sub-category called the woven pendulous basket. It is three feet long and seven inches wide at the bottom. You will find a detailed blueprint in the book. The photograph I’m showing, however, comes courtesy of the Trinidad Birding website here.



    Here is the Stork Cam in Tirschenreuth. Of course, it is snowing now.

  2. Thanks ever so much, Karin. Obviously I hadn't found that when I was doing this post. Amazing things are available these days. Be sure that I will bring pictures of next year's storks when they arrive...


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