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5 Amazing examples of design in bird nests

On a cold and wet day not long ago, I was walking through Prospect Park in Brooklyn listening to the muted calls of birds and couldn’t help but admire all the finely constructed nests still perched in the baron trees.

I know it’s a bit too early to start thinking about bird nests, but it’s impossible not to marvel at the elaborate structures built by birds year in year out. A lot of these structures, like gigantic dams built by beavers or extensive burrow systems made by wombats, make the things we produce on a daily basis look small and inconsequential.

What got me mildly obsessed with this subject was a book I recently received from the Wild Bird Magazine called “Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them” by Sharon Beals, which features 50 amazing photographs of bird nests.

Photographer Sharon Beals, who became entranced with taking pictures of old bird nest specimens at museums, perfectly captures the adeptness of birds in a way that exhibits their intuition. The 50 nests in her book are just a tiny sample of all the different types of nests that exist in the world and you can really see her passion grow as she urges everyone to be conscious of how their actions affect nature and birds.

Here are 5 of my favorite nests from her photographs that really demonstrate why it’s important to conserve the planet.

Allen’s Hummingbird


I find all hummingbird nests remarkable because of how they are built and just how small they are. This image isn’t actually from her book, but it’s on Sharon Beals Flickr account.

American Robin


American Robins elaborately place twigs and weeds to create an outer layer. Then they reinforce their nest by smearing mud around it. They build a new nest for every new brood.

Caspian Tern


This is among my favorite nests, not because of its architecture, but simply because it looks absolutely beautiful. As you can tell from the materials it uses, the Caspian Tern nests near coastal areas all around the world. In the book, Sharon points out that the construction is rudimentary and that they scrape shallow depressions in the ground for a nest.

Golden-Hooded Tanager


The Golden-Hooded Tanager, which hails from Central and South America, constructs very strong nests in places where they can be hidden. For example, they are sometimes built in bunches of bananas, empty trees and even in old honeycombs.

House Finch


House Finches are well-known for their scrappiness and will use nearly any material or location to build a nest. As demonstrated from this picture, their use of our trash is both sad and admirable.

If you like these photographs, I highly recommend you get her book, which is a great coffee table book. Also, check out Sharon Beals website.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

8 Comments

  1. How beautiful—how amazing are birds who take what they can find and erect the perfect shelter for their young.

  2. Amazing…tell me there is not a Designer that created all these beauties……

  3. Some say there is NO DESIGNER for all these beauties..OUR CREATOR is AMAZING NICE FIND

  4. Oh yes I so agree Diane Pizzo! Each different nest is so special only OUR CREATOR could put the knowledge into each beautful bird!

  5. I agree. It’s simply amazing just how resourceful and skilled they are.

  6. Lovely nests. A few years ago my friend had a pair of Orioles nest in her weeping willow tree. She had an old blue tarp out in the elements that was shredding and those Orioles used it to make their nest, the whole thing was blue! I imagine it was also fairly waterproof. It hung in that tree long after the birds were gone.

  7. Regarding the statement that the American Robin builds a new nest for each brood, robins nested in a bush right outside our bathroom window last summer and the same nest was used for three broods, with a few repairs made before each new brood. So interesting to watch at such close quarters.

  8. That’s really interesting. Sometimes they just love a certain location so much that they simply build on top of the other one. They will typically never use the same nest without making significant modifications.

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