Nature’s Best Nests
When we picture a bird’s nest, we tend to think of a bundle of twigs high up in a tree. In most cases this is fairly accurate, but some species are much more inventive. If no suitable trees are available, birds can find alternative accommodation in the strangest of places.
Shelducks, long-tailed tits, cuckoos and goldeneyes are four brilliant nest builders with unconventional but effective approaches to homemaking.
Very few people see shelduck nests, because they are usually underground in rabbit burrows! The female lines the floor of the burrow with plants and fluffy down feathers to make it cosy before laying her eggs, and the male stays close at hand to escort his partner on feeding trips. Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserves around Portsmouth are ideal places to spot shelducks as they are mainly found in coastal areas.
Long-tailed tit nests are masterpieces of engineering. They are like big, oval bubbles of moss, hair, spiderwebs and lichen, with a single hole to squeeze in and out of. The male and female build the nest together – a process which can take over three weeks. They usually lay six to eight eggs, but can produce as many as 15! Luckily the nest is stretchy and can expand to accommodate the growing chicks.
Cuckoos don’t need to build nests – instead, they sneak their eggs into the nests of other birds. When the rightful owner leaves her nest, the female cuckoo races in and lays an egg of her own, and when the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes out the other eggs or chicks. This way, when the unsuspecting mother bird comes back with a beakful of goodies, the cuckoo chick can take all the food for itself.
Tree nesting might not seem odd for a bird, but how often do you see a duck perched on a branch? Goldeneyes are dainty diving ducks that lay their eggs in tree cavities. They line the nest with feathers to make it nice and comfortable, but when the ducklings are just a day old they have to jump out to follow their mum to water.
Of course, lots of our feathered friends make their nests in hedges as they provide a good form of safety for eggs and chicks from predators. Whilst it is not illegal to trim garden hedges during the peak nesting season, it is a criminal offence to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust advises to avoid cutting hedgerows from March – September and to delay any maintenance work till January or February, as winter and autumn berries provide a valuable food source for birds like redwings, blackbirds and fieldfares.
For more information about how to protect bird nests please visit Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/blog/hiwwt/protecting-nest-generation
To learn more about local wildlife, visit the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust at website https://www.hiwwt.org.uk