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Building a Nest

This experiment is one that we used for teaching about birds back when I worked in the Education Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. On our trip, we went by to say Hi to old friends, which brought back tons of great memories. This is one of the fun things my brain dredged up.

Look at some bird nests. You can either search your yard ( just look, don't touch or bother the nest), visit your local Nature Center, or search the Internet. A quick Google Image search for "bird nest" came up with over 175,000 images of bird nests. Look at the wide variety of nests, from huge Bald Eagle nests that can weigh more than a ton, to the marvelous nests that Hummingbirds build from spider webs. They truly are amazing, but how hard are they to build. That is what we will find out.

To try this, you will need:

  • tweezers
  • several marbles
  • sticks
  • grass
  • string
  • leaves
  • hair
  • other things you may find in your yard

OK, the task is simple. Collect your materials from the yard, and then try to build a bird nest. You can select from anything in your yard that a bird might use. Think about the different nests you have seen, and what they were made of. Sounds like an easy project, right? Oh, one more thing. You have to collect the materials and build the nest using the tweezers. Birds don't have hands, and most of them make very little use of their feet in nest building. For most birds, their single tool is their beak. You don't have a beak, so you get to use the tweezers instead.

Your goal is to make a nest that would sit in a tree or a bush, and that would hold several bird eggs, or in our case, glass marbles. Trees and bushes are exposed to the wind, so the nest has to be sturdy enough so that it will hold the marbles, even when you shake the nest to simulate wind blowing the bush. You are limited to materials a bird would use. That rules out wrapping your nest in Duct tape or using glue to hold it together. Some birds do use their sticky saliva as a glue to hold the nest in place. In fact, nests made from the saliva of certain cave swifts are used to make Birds Nest Soup, a Chinese delicacy. Yum! I love Birds Nest Soup, even though I know it is made of bird spit. Feel free to use spit on your nest, if you think that will help.

When you are done with your nest, test it with the marbles and some gentle shaking. If it holds together, congratulations! Take a photo and email it to me, and I will post them here. Be sure to send your name, age, and what materials you used, to post with your nest photo.

When you are done, look back over the photos of the bird nests. You should then have a true appreciation of the skill these amazing creatures have, to build such elaborate structures with just their beak. Imagine trading in your hands for a beak. Just imagine how much work it would be to eat an entire bowl of ice cream with just a beak! Now that is something worth experimenting with!