14 Jul 2017

8 incredible bird nests from around the world

When thinking about bird nests, most people may imagine the regular bowl-shaped receptacle of twigs and leaves, but birds’ nesting behaviours are as diverse as their courting rituals

Gila Woodpecker © kojihirano/Shutterstock
Gila Woodpecker © kojihirano/Shutterstock
By Irene Lorenzo

Birds go to incredible lengths to build nests that keep their chicks safe from harm. From the desert-dwelling woodpecker who spends months patiently hollowing-out a cactus, to the aptly-named ‘ovenbird’, which leaves its mud nest to bake and harden in the sun, these amazing designs are a testament to the genius and resourcefulness of birds. Here are eight of our favourite nesting styles from around the world.



Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus

© tahirsphotography/Shutterstock

The weaver family get their name after their ability to weave elaborate nests, which vary in size, shape and material depending on the species. The Baya Weaver chooses branches of thorny trees or palm trees above the water to weave grass leaves into their gourd-shaped nests, which can be as big as a football. As they’re a social species, they don’t like to nest alone – with up to 60 pairs nesting together in a single tree and more than 200 in some colonies. Found across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, their breeding season coincides with the monsoons so researchers believe their nests are often located on the eastern side of the tree because it offers protection against the heavy rains.



Anna's Hummingbird Calypte anna

© Mick Thompson/Flickr

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This North American hummingbird builds tiny luxurious nests in trees or shrubs, mostly using plant fibers, downy feathers and animal hair, bound together by spider silk. They finish it off camouflaging the exterior with plant debris, moss or bits of lichen. The nest size ranges from 3.8 to 5.1 cm in diameter, about the size of a small espresso cup, laying two eggs the size of a coffee bean. 



White Tern Gygis alba

© 18042011/Shutterstock

Collecting grass, twigs, mud? Too much like hard work. Why bother building a nest when you can just lay your eggs on top of any branch? The White Tern’s minimalist nest consists of… literally nothing. A knot or crook on a tree branch is all it needs to incubate its single egg. Scientists speculate that they have evolved this behaviour as a result of nest parasites, found to be less common if there’s no nest in the first place.



Rufous Hornero Furnarius rufus

© Uwe Bergwitz

Also known as the “ovenbird” because of its nesting habits, this South American bird collects mud and manure to pile it on top of a tree branch while letting the sun slowly dry it. It then patiently builds its characteristic dome-shaped structure that resembles an old wood-fired oven.



Hamerkop Scopus umbretta

© Ondrej Prosicky

This African bird builds three to five unusually huge nests every year, which take months to construct, regardless of whether they are breeding or not. Their nests can measure up to two metres in diameter and depth, and weigh up to 50 kg.



Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus

© Pictureguy/Shutterstock

Many species of owl appreciate a good old vintage house. The Great Horned Owl, a common bird found throughout the Americas, repurposes old nests from a variety of animals – hawks, ravens, and even squirrels. Yes to recycling!



African Jacana Actophilornis africanus

© Ute von Ludwiger

This sub-Saharan waterbird builds several nests per season and chooses only one for laying, leaving the rest as back-up. Their nests are floating mounds of damp plant stems, and eggs are often laid so close to the water that they end up sinking. Luckily, their eggs are waterproof and they can just move them to their next rickety construction.



Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis

Gila Woodpecker © kojihirano/Shutterstock

Nesting requires some planning for this North American bird, as it excavates a hole in a cactus several months ahead of its breeding time, waiting for it to dry out before moving in. The cavity inside the cactus, called a “boot”, keeps the eggs safe and cool until they’re ready to hatch.

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