Birds are some of nature's great architects. From the tiny Wren to the mighty Golden Eagle, species large and small build nests in which to raise their young and each has its own unique spin on their construction. We take a closer look at this natural phenomenon below.
As egg-layers, birds need a safe and sheltered place in which to lay their eggs and then incubate them until they are ready to hatch. This must be sheltered from the elements and out of reach of predators - a nest is the perfect solution.
The variation of nests is quite staggering. Some are built in trees, others are constructed on the ground and some can pop up in a wide variety of weird and wonderful places (more on that below). However, what all nests have in common is that they are ideally suited to allowing a specific species to have the best chance of raising its chicks to adulthood.
The wide range of nests built by birds means construction techniques are equally as variable. Rooks, for example, are rather uncultured and simply drop sticks and twigs among the tree branches until a nest begins to form. Other species, such as the Blackbird, pay much more attention to detail, weaving strands of grass and other vegetation into a cup shape with a smooth inside.
All sorts of materials are used in nests, including grass, moss, twigs, leaves, mud, feathers and even spiderwebs, which help to ensure everything sticks together. Watch the birds in your garden at this time of year and there's a good chance you'll see more than a few species collecting the resources needed to construct the perfect nest. Some birds will build a new nest each year, while others will stay in use for long periods.
The best nests
The nests you're most likely to see are those built by corvids such as Rooks and Carrion Crows. These are large structures that typically sit near the top of larger trees. They are easily visible in the winter months when the trees are bare. Most nests, however, are well hidden, and they need to be if the eggs and chicks within are to be kept safe from predators.
Other nests that are easier to see are those built by waterfowl such as swans and ducks. The protection provided by water means there is less need for these birds to ensure their nests are concealed. If you do come across a nest, be careful not to stray too close so as to avoid disturbing the inhabitants. Get too close to some nests and you may find yourself under attack from a protective parent!
To appreciate the full extent of birds' construction capabilities, you have to venture beyond the UK. Across the world, birds build all sorts of nests ranging from the Malleefowl's self-heating compost heaps to the huge nests Sociable Weavers build entirely out of their own saliva.
Birds have evolved to be expert nest-builders, but that doesn't mean they won't take advantage of any opportunities humans throw their way. For example, as long as humans have been constructing buildings, birds have been nesting in them. Numerous species take advantage of the safety and shelter of man-made constructions to build their nests. The Barn Owl has even been named after its choice of building!
Birds' opportunism doesn't stop there though, as nests have been built everywhere from inside traffic lights to car engines! If you'd like birds to nest in your garden, you can take advantage of their opportunistic nature by investing in a nest box. Providing the perfect combination of safety and shelter, your local birds will find this too good an opportunity to turn down. Take a look at our full range of nest boxes here.