Thursday, 6 June 2019

Discovering Birds' Nests - blown down in the wind

Nests feature in my children's book 'Whose Home is This?' illustrated by Fraser Williamson, which I'm excited to say is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2019.
Half of the homes in the book belong to birds
I'm fascinated by how animals make their homes. In the spring I quietly observe the birds in my garden to see where they might be building their nests. In autumn and winter after a stormy night, I look in the garden or when I'm out on a bush walk to see if a bird's nest has been blown down by the wind. Garden or bush birds need only make their nests strong enough to last a month or two, just long enough for their chicks to grow big enough. For each new brood of chicks, they'll build a new nest. So the old nests eventually fall apart or get blown out of the tree.

I've found some interesting nests in our garden and on bush walks. I've even rescued tūī chicks along with their nest which blew down while they were still using it!
Tūī chicks in a nest
For more on that story click here.

Here are some found nests. The birds that made these used stalks of grass, moss, sticks and other materials such as cobwebs.
Maybe a chaffinch nest?
Amazingly some birds create a really smooth surface inside the nest by turning and turning around as they build the nest, smoothing and compacting the surface. You can read more about how birds that were introduced from Britain, such as chaffinches and thrushes build their nests here.
This tiny nest may have belonged to a fantail or silvereye.
If you find a windblown nest it's not always easy to work out which bird built it, unless you saw the bird using that nest earlier in the year. There isn't much left of this nest below but we think we know whose nest this was.

It looks like the remains of a hanging nest like the one in the illustration below.
A page from 'Whose Home is This?'
The grey warbler / riroriro creates a hanging nest hidden deep in the bush, they aren't easy to find until they fall down.

Some larger birds make a rough nest of sticks. Large birds that live in colonies don't need to hide their nests in the same way as small birds living on their own.
Pied stilt nest built of sticks
Otago shags on mud nests, on a hillside
Gannets nest on a headland,
their nests are just a scrape in the mud.

A good source of information about native and introduced birds is NZ Birds Online, the photo gallery often includes photos of the nests. You can also post photos of nests on iNaturalist, it's possible that someone in the iNaturalist community can identify your nest.

Activity ideas for parents and educators: If you or the children find a fallen nest
  • have the children spend some time looking to see which tree it might have fallen from or looking around at what birds are in the area to guess whose nest it might be, 
  • set them to drawing the nest, drawing something helps us look at it more closely
  • if you are worried about bugs or fleas that might have been in the nest, put it in a plastic bag in the freezer (being careful not to squash it) the cold will kill off anything living in the nest
  • now examine the nest to see what it is made of 
  • set the children a challenge to gather the same materials and see if they can make a strong nest that will stay in a tree 

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