20, March 2023
The Incredible Art of Nest-Building
Spring is officially here, and Nature is doing spectacular things right now. Whether you live in the countryside or the city, you won’t have to travel far to catch a glimpse of the magic of the season. From frothy blossom to fluffy ducklings, Nature’s newness is there for the taking. But perhaps one of the most phenomenal Nature spring happenings is the effort and craft that goes into building nests.
MORE THAN JUST TWIGS
That birds instinctively know how and where to find suitable materials for their nests is impressive. That they then transform them into intricate, ingeniously-engineered structures without the aid of hands, never mind opposable thumbs, is nothing short of astounding.
Nests provide shelter, warmth and safety. They must insulate, resist the elements and protect fragile and precious eggs. And Nature provides birds with all the materials needed to build them this way.
As well as the obvious twigs and sticks, birds collect moss, mud, catkins, lichen, feathers, animal hair and even spiders’ webs to craft their nurseries. Using their beaks, they meticulously weave these natural materials together, creating a structure that’s both cosy and robust.
Every bird species has its own signature architectural style. Swallows build their nests by sticking tiny globules of mud to eaves and ceilings, whilst grebes create floating, raft-style nest out of weeds. Swans make their nests together as a couple, whilst female blackbirds spend two weeks constructing theirs on their own. Woodpeckers hollow out holes for nests in tree trunks, whilst bluetits look for existing holes (often made by woodpeckers!) to occupy. Oystercatchers make ‘scrape’ nests – simple depressions in the ground, whilst long-tailed tits knit together a complex dome complete with clever lichen cladding for camouflage.
AN EXTRAORDINARY BEE’S NEST
Of course, birds aren’t the only creatures that make nests. Insects, squirrels and hedgehogs all work hard to build these amazing safe havens for their young. And one of the most remarkable nests in the natural world is the creation of the red mason bee. She upcycles a snail shell and flies through the air with pieces of dried grass in her clutches to build a protective tepee. We recommend watching the short video of this process above to see how truly amazing it is!
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
In the UK, wild birds' nests and eggs are protected by the law, so you should only ever view active nests from a distance. Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to disturb nesting birds and to take or sell wild birds’ eggs, and if you wanted to photograph birds’ nests you’d need to obtain a special license. You can identify empty nests using this guide from the Woodland Trust and view live nest webcams on The Wildlife Trusts’ website.