Monday, June 29, 2009

Nest Building Up Close

Recently I was reading an article from National Geographic titled “Minds of their Own - Animals are Smarter than You Think.” Of course they are, I've know that for most of my life. But the ways they learn are very complex and so very interesting. One of the cases cited was about a story we’ve followed for years about Alex the African Gray parrot that worked with Irene Pepperberg for about 30 years. The bird learned names for multiple combinations of shapes and colors and communicated appropriate words at particular situations as when other birds in the lab were practicing sounds and Alex would bolt out “Speak Clearly”!!” Yes, this is all true! Information gathered about HOW learning happens in the Alex studies was later applied to DVD learning modules for children suffering from autism. A truly awesome and inspiring story.

Starting about one week ago we had our own little demonstration of bird analytic skills and amazing feats right outside our computer window. One day while John was taking a break from bronze restoration he painted and put up the wren house in the picture above. After chasing off some wasps and bumblebees that tried to make this their new home, a pair of wrens found the little chalet and started building! It has unbelievable to see how tenacious these birds are. At daybreak they are up and at it and hardly take any breaks through the day (except for a quick song or two as illustrated by the photo on the right). Even though the temps were in the 90's last week they kept a steady pace. I wish the house was glass so we could watch the progress inside.

One of the most interesting things, that we never see when observing from a distance is that some of the twigs the birds bring up to put in the house are MUCH longer than the width of the hole. See top picture. We figured the male must have built before - he started off pretty savvy about getting the sticks sideways to push them through. But the little female must have been a first-time builder. She would come up to the hole with the too-long twig crossways and push her tiny body against the hole several times, turn around, try again, twist, contort and sometimes get it in. Sometimes she would just drop it in frustration but by the end of the week she figured out how to slide it in sideways - she became a pro!

By Sunday it seemed the birds had started bringing in softer materials to line the nest so I brushed out our dogs and left tufts of hair around the area. Soon they will start laying eggs and a whole new chapter begins. I can't wait to see fuzzy little baby heads sticking out of the hole but most of all I can't wait until winter when I can clean out the house to see this awesome creation that has taken over 100+ "bird-hours" to assemble!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bird Nests

Here it is June and again I am behind on the blog. WAY behind! Not that there hasn't been any bird activity - in fact there's been LOTS of that!

John is down at the studio working on a little bronze restoration and I thought I'd take a minute to take photos of these two bird nests I found while cleaning out the houses on the grounds here at MasterWorks in February. Did you know that there are about as many different nest styles as there are kinds of birds? There are even field books printed to help you identify nest and eggs. Many people have seen the neat hummingbird documentary that goes around the internet that shows the thimble-sized little nest they build and I haven't seen one of those yet. I hope to some day!

In the mean time I've got plenty of other interesting nests around here. The pictures are of titmouse on the left and bluebird on the right . We have lots of bluebirds as I've written about before. They make a good sturdy nest and line it with soft materials. On this example it has hairs and mossy material, perfect for tender, featherless baby birds! On the other extreme, you have the titmouse. Every year I say, while I'm cleaning out the birdhouses, "God, if I come back as a bird, please don't let it be as a titmouse. Why? Whatever birds think, I don't know, but for some reason the titmouse makes their nest out of sticks and twigs. That's it. Sticks and twigs. No soft lining, no fluff, just the nest. Here you go babies! They must be tough, or at least they are by the time they get out of that homesite!

Another interesting nest that I'd like to see some day is that of the Baltimore Oriole. From what I hear and read they actually weave a little bag from grasses and attach it to a branch from several spots around the opening of the bag. We had Orioles fly through one year and spend a few days and were they beautiful to see! But they did not come back and I think they nest farther south. That would probably be the place to find their unique nesting craftsmanship. Oh Dear Lord, how did you think of all these neat things! Thank you!