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03/05/2003 Archived Entry: "Birds' Nests"

5 March 2003
A few years ago, I received an interesting letter from a reader of my Countrymanís Diary column in the Darlington & Stockton Times about bird nests. The birds are now singing loudly and practising their spring courtship rituals in order to attract a mate. I have noticed bluetits taking an interest in my birdbox and they have been pecking at the wood in order to rid the box of insects which may have moved in over the winter.

My correspondent gave me a nice little story of how the birds decided on their various nesting habits. Once upon a time, the story goes, all the birds were gathered together for a lesson in nest-building. The wren paid very close attention to what the teacher said and later built a perfect nest. It had a roof, it was cosy and it was weather-proof. The magpie listened intently but it was easily distracted and heard only part of the lesson. As a result, its nest, although rounded with a roof, was far from weather-proof. The pigeon and doves only heard snippets of the lesson because they were far more interested in each other, and so they built a very poor nest with twigs which was flat and open to the elements. Song birds like the thrush and blackbird decided that singing lessons were more important than nest-building and so they managed to built only the bottom half of a nest, while the cuckoo, who regularly played truant, never built a nest at all. It laid its eggs in someone else's nest and let its young be reared by others.

The robin thought it knew more than the teacher and used other things in which to build its nest, like old kettles, pans and derelict cars, while the kingfisher drilled into a riverside bank and decided it was easier to live in the tunnel as it was, rather than build a nest.
And what of the birds that lay their eggs in nests on the ground, and those that donít bother with nests at all but lay their eggs on bare cliffs, or make use of holes in trees? Some build platforms of reeds in lakes and rivers, and some construct very splendid examples under the eaves of our houses. Our nest-builders are very skilled and versatile and I wonder who really did teach them?

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