11 Extremely Impressive Bird Nests

11 Extremely Impressive Bird Nests

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01of 12

These Bird Nests Make Your Vacation House Look Like a Hole in the Ground

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We're all familiar with the nests of blackbirds and sparrows, rough, round, monochrome structures that do an excellent job of protecting these birds' young but don't display much in the way of pizzazz. Fortunately, though, birds have a wide range of nesting styles, utilizing various odd shapes and materials as diverse as shells, spider webs, saliva, and even small bits of plastic. On the followings slides, you'll discover the 11 most impressive bird nests, ranging from the fruit-like structures of the Montezuma oropendola to the colorful patterned displays of the male bowerbird.

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The Montezuma Oropendola

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From a distance, the nests of the Montezuma oropendola look like low-hanging fruit-a cruel illusion if you happen to find yourself shipwrecked and starving on a Caribbean island. During breeding season, the coastal trees of the oropendola's habitat are decorated with anywhere from 30 to 40 nests, though some larger specimens can host over a hundred. These nests are built by different females out of sticks and twigs, but there's only one dominant (and much larger) male per tree, who mates in turn with each of the soon-to-be-moms. Females lay two eggs at a time, which hatch after 15 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest about 15 days after that.

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The Malleefowl

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Contrary to what most people think, a nest isn't necessarily a structure built in a tree. For example, malleefowls-chicken-sized birds indigenous to Australia-create huge nests on the ground, some of which can measure over 150 feet in circumference and two feet high. The male mallefowl digs an enormous hole and fills it with sticks, leaves and other organic matter; after the female deposits her eggs, the breeding pair adds a thin layer of sand for insulation. As the organic matter below decays, its heat incubates the eggs; the only downside is that baby malleefowls have to dig their way out of these huge mounds after they hatch, an arduous process that can take as long as 15 hours!

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The African Jacana

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What would happen if you crossed a bird with a frog? Well, you might wind up with something like the African jacana, which lays its eggs on floating nests only a bit more advanced than lily pads. During breeding season, the male jacana constructs two or three of these nests, and the female lays four eggs on (or near) her favorite; the nest can be pushed to safety during floods, but it can also capsize if the eggs aren't properly weighted. Somewhat unusually, it's up to male jacanas to incubate the eggs, while the moms are free to mate with other males and/or defend the nests from other aggressive females; after the eggs hatch, the males also provide the bulk of parental care (though feeding is the responsibility of the females).

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The Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl


It's hard to imagine a more uncomfortable place to build a nest than inside a saguaro cactus, but the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl somehow manages to pull off this trick. To be fair, this owl doesn't carve out the hole itself-it either avails itself of naturally occurring cavities, or ones that have already been bored out by woodpeckers-and its feathers provide adequate protection against painful needle sticks. Perhaps because of its odd nesting choice, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl is seriously endangered; no more than a few dozen individuals are spotted each year in Arizona, and saguaro cactuses are themselves under environmental pressure, often succumbing to fires caused by invasive buffel grass.

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The Sociable Weaver

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Some birds build single nests; others erect entire apartment complexes. The sociable weaver of southern Africa builds the largest communal nests of any bird species; the biggest structures house over a hundred breeding pairs, and provide refuge (after breeding season) for finches, lovebirds and falcons. The nests of sociable weavers are semi-permanent structures, used by multiple generations over the course of three or four decades, and like termite nests they incorporate advanced ventilation and insulation systems that keep the interior of the nest cool in the blazing African sun. Still, sociable weaver nests are far from predator-proof; as many as three-quarters of this bird's eggs are eaten by snakes or other animals before they have the chance to hatch.

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The Edible-Nest Swiftlet

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If you're an adventurous diner, you may be familiar with bird's nest soup, a name that refers not to this meal's appearance but to its actual ingredients, in particular the nest of the edible-nest swiftlet of southeast Asia. This strange bird constructs its nest out of its own hardened saliva, which it deposits in layers on rocks or (in areas where bird's nest soup is especially popular) in specialized bird houses equipped with electronic "tweeters" to attract tenants. Like many other odd foods prized in Asia-such as sea cucumbers and tiger penises-the nest of the edible-nest swiftlet is valued for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, though it's hard to imagine how a meal of congealed bird saliva could get anyone in the mood.

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The Bowerbird


If there was an avian equivalent of HGTV, its star would be the bowerbird, the males of which decorate their elaborate nests with any colorful items near to hand-either naturally occurring (leaves, rocks, shells, feathers, berries) or man-made (coins, nails, rifle shells, small bits of plastic). Male bowerbirds spend a great deal of time getting their nests just so, and females spend a comparable amount of time inspecting and appraising the completed nests, just like those picky couples featured on House Hunters. The males with the most attractive nests get to mate with females; those whose bowers don't come up to snuff presumably tuck their tails between their legs and rent out their subpar properties to beetles or snakes.

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The Ovenbird

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Yes, many birds wind up in human ovens, but the ovenbird earns its name because the nests of some species resemble primitive cooking pots, complete with lids. The red ovenbird-also known as the rufous hornero-has the most characteristic nest, a thick, round, sturdy structure assembled by breeding couples out of clay over the course of about six weeks. Unlike most birds, the rufous hornero thrives in urban habitats and adapts quickly to human encroachment-with the result that many red ovenbirds now prefer to use man-made structures to shelter their young, freeing up their durable nests for use by other bird species, such as the saffron finch.

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The Penduline Tit

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Penduline tits could teach Burlington a thing or two about textiles. The nests of these birds are so elaborately conceived (one species incorporates a false entrance on the top, the real interior being accessed by a sticky flap hidden underneath) and expertly woven (out of a combination of animal hair, wool, soft plants and even spider webs) that they have been used by humans throughout history as handbags and children's slippers. When they're not actively breeding in their pendulous (i.e., hanging) nests, penduline tits can be often be seen perching on small branches and digging into their favorite meal of wriggling insects.

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The Bee-Eater

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Besides their habit of eating bees and other flying insects, bee-eaters are known for their characteristic nests: stark holes dug into the ground, or into the sides of cliffs, where these birds raise their young. Nests are laboriously dug out by breeding pairs, which jab the hard surface with their bills and kick out the loosened sand or dirt with their feet; this process usually involves plenty of false starts, until the bee-eaters have carved out a hole capacious enough to hold a clutch of four or five eggs. Some bee-eater colonies are comprised of thousands of nests, which are often utilized by snakes, bats, and other bird species after the hatchlings have fledged.

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The Southern Masked Weaver

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Remember those lanyards you used to make in summer camp? Well, that's the essential gimmick of the southern masked weaver of Africa, which constructs its intricate nests out of wide strips of grass, reeds, and/or palm blades. Male weavers build as many as two dozen nests each breeding season, completing each structure in anywhere from 9 to 14 hours, then proudly display their wares to available females. If a female is sufficiently impressed, the male builds an entrance tunnel to the nest, whereupon his mate adds her characteristic touch by lining the inside with feathers or soft grass. What happens next? You'll have to subscribe to the avian version of late-night HBO to find out.