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!

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