COUNTRYSIDE NOTES MAY 2017
Birds never cease to amaze me. Their nests come in so many different designs utilising a wide variety of materials such as twigs, dead leaves, dried grass, aquatic vegetation, animal fur, wool, feathers, cobwebs and mud. It is not uncommon either to find other items such as string, baler twine, paper, pieces of polythene etc included. Blackbirds and thrushes are reasonably conventional with their bowl shaped nests which can be told apart as the thrush lines hers with mud. Of the birds that build in trees perhaps the laziest of them all is the woodpigeon which makes do with just a flimsy platform of dead twigs. Crows and rooks build similar nests although theirs are much more substantial, while magpies create dome shaped twiggy nests. Sparrows would probably win the prize for being the untidiest nest builders with their ragged creations made from straw, dried grass and feathers. The tit family are much neater, seeking cavities in which to build, making use of moss, fine grass and lining their nests with hair, animal fur, wool or feathers. Best of all are the nests of long tailed tits which build beautiful oval balls out of moss, cobwebs and hair which they cover with grey lichen and line with feathers, often using a large one to cover the entrance hole near the top. Many warbler species build nests woven from fine vegetation close to the ground in reeds, gorse, brambles or bushes. Tree creepers and wrens often choose a crevice in tree bark using whatever materials they can find close by. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and owls seek out holes in trees. Swallows and house martins collect mud which they mix with their saliva to build nests on the sides of buildings. However their cousin the swift, being unable to walk on the ground, chooses to nest under roof tiles. A variety of species nest on the ground. Plovers, waders and terns make a little scrape on bare soil, open moorland or coastal shingle in which to lay their eggs. Most species of ducks and geese create a cosy nest from dead leaves and grasses which they line with soft down plucked from their breasts. Our ancestors discovered that down from eider ducks would keep them warm at night hence the invention of the ‘eiderdown’. Exceptions to this rule are goldeneye, which normally nest in holes in trees, and shelduck which select rotten trees. Sometimes straw stacks make acceptable substitutes for trees. Aquatic vegetation is used by swans to build gigantic nests close to the water edge. Grebes use similar materials to make floating platforms anchored in a pond or riverside reeds as do coots and moorhens who build cup shaped nests in which to lay their eggs. Those birds which spend most of their lives at sea generally choose precarious sites on cliff edges and buildings. The gold medal for laziness though, must surely go to the cuckoo which neither builds its own nest nor raises its own chicks.