Building a Bird’s Nest

It’s easy to assume that building a bird’s nest would be pretty simple, right? Birds only have little beaks and feet to work with… and that’s not even mentioning the common idiom of “bird brain” meaning stupid or flaky. Surely, we (arrogant) humans, with our dexterous fingers and big brains will find building a bird’s nest easy… or will we?

It turns out that building a bird’s nest, even for nimble-fingered, relatively intelligent humans, is NOT so simple! 

Gathering Bird’s Nest Materials

If we were true purists (we’re not), we would have only worked with the same materials that birds use.

We collected lots of little twigs, some grasses, moss and lichen from all around our back yard. Staying focused was a challenge… maybe bird brains aren’t so flaky after all…

Girl gathering twigs

We thought that glue would hold things together and a bowl would help us get the right shape.

Boy building birds nest

Things started to go wrong right away. Many twigs weren’t the right length of they didn’t have the proper curve to create a rounded nest shape. Also, our Elmer’s glue was too runny so it didn’t hold things in place very well. 

materials for building birds nests

Eventually, with a lot of patience, careful placement, and considerable teamwork, we were able to create some pretty cute nests. We even had some ceramic eggs to go inside.

Birds Nest

The best part, however, was that we came away from this project with a new appreciation for bird brains. Birds are definitely NOT stupid! Also, our curiosity was piqued – we wanted to learn more.

It Wasn’t a Failure, It Was a Discovery

We didn’t fail at making nests, we learned that birds are specially designed to make perfect nests. We didn’t get frustrated about why our nests wouldn’t stick together even though we were using “advanced human glue.” Instead, we got curious about what natural materials birds use to keep their nests from falling apart. When the twigs we had chosen didn’t fit right, we realized how specialized each piece of the nest needed to be. We also thought about how easily we could just break the twig using our hands or clippers but a bird can’t do that! When the twigs fit together but there were still gaps, we wondered what other materials birds might use to fill every crevice and create soft nesting spots. When our fat fingers bumped twigs out of place, we understood why a bird’s thin beak and pointy toes are just right for weaving grasses and other bits into their nests.

Hands-on activities like building a bird’s nest spark our curiosity and make us want to know more. After building bird’s nests ourselves, we made a point of learning more about how the “professionals” (birds, that is) do it.

Learning More About Birds

Different types of birds feet
C burnett derivative work: Fred the Oyster and Uwe_Gille [CC BY-SA 3.0]

On Wikipedia we learned that Birds’ feet have anywhere from two to four digits. For birds with four digits, there are two ways the “toes” can be arranged (called anisodactyl or zygodactyl) or just one way if they are tridactyl (three digits) or didactyl (two digits). The kids had fun drawing these easy shapes of different bird feet.

This story of the way John James Audubon followed his curiosity to make new discoveries about birds is truly inspring. Though it has been simplified for younger readers, the touch of history and themes of rebellion and independence, following your passions, valuing creativity, curiousity and artistic talents, and doing thoughtful, meaningful work are rich throughout. Amazon link.

With rhyming couplets and detailed side-notes, this picture book is wonderfully informative about the wide variety of bird’s nests. For example, we learned that hummingbirds use spiderwebs in their nests! Not only does this help hold the nest together, the webbing also stretches as the baby birds grow inside the nest. Wonderful details will nurture more curiosity about the world of birds. Amazon link.

As if bird’s nests aren’t interesting enough, this book introduces many other nest-making creatures including orangutans and prairie dogs. We actually recommend this whole series of nature books for the absolutely gorgeous illustrations and wonderful array of subjects. Amazon link.

We concluded that building birds nests is probably best left to the birds who will use them. Still, we had a lot of fun trying and the effort opened up a whole new area of interest.


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