Zyra .me.uk //// Zyra .org.uk //// Birds //// Natural World //// Photo Gallery //// Features //// Site Index
Story of a Bird's Nest
Here's the story of a bird's nest, told as a sequence of wildlife photographs. I'm no ornithologist myself, and it was by considerable luck that a bird happened to build a nest in a covered patio just the other side of a window where it was possible to get close-up pictures.
On the 15th of April 2010, I noticed the nest and took this first picture. The windows were very dirty, and it was necessary to clean a small patch so that the camera could get views of the bird on the nest. The window cleaning had to be done during opportunistic periods when the bird was not about, so as not to upset the bird!
If you are interested in birds, you may like to have a look at the RSPB, where birds are the top priority.
I'd be interested to know what type of bird this is. I'm sure ornithologists will be keen to tell me. I could make guesses and suppose that it's a thrush, and that this is what a thrush nest looks like, but then again, a few books suggest that the choice of nest building materials are more characteristic of a blackbird. This wouldn't have been my first guess, as I had the odd idea that the blackbird is in fact a black bird, hence the name "black-bird". However, I understand that although the male blackbird is generally black , the female blackbird is a much more practically camouflaged brown colour, making her much more difficult for predators to notice on a nest.
The bird's nest location was quite well chosen by the bird. Apart from the unwitting proximity to the window of a house dwelt in by a worrying-looking predatorial character with a camera, the location was quite good. It was high up on the shelves of a covered patio. The nest was sheltered from the rain, and the nest was on the top shelf, the shelves being stacked up with plantpots and seed trays. Cats, the main predator of little birds, would find it difficult to climb the shelves, and if you look closely at the picture you can see where several previous attempts by cats had failed. Those seed trays balanced on the edge may leave the cat upskittled and covered in bulb fibre compost, and what a cat can't bear to lose is its dignity.
Here's another picture showing the nest location. Notice how the nest is in the top right corner. It's not that easy to spot. Even if a cat were to suss this out and to try to climb the shelves, it would probably have plantpots falling off in an unpredictable way. Plus, the two birds would most likely mob the cat, which could easily upset its balance. Apart from cats, most ground-based predators aren't good at climbing. Birds of prey might be a problem to birds on a nest, but in this case the birds would be protected by the roof. A bird of prey would not want to risk its own safety trying to get at the nest in that precarious position.
Realising the obvious fact that a bird sitting on a nest has a good reason to sit there, I waited for the opportune moment when the bird was away, and then before the bird returned, I managed to get the camera through the window and over the top of the nest so as to photograph whatever was inside the nest. Sure enough, there were eggs. I was careful not to disturb these, nor to distress the bird by being in position with the camera over the nest for too long.
The pointing of a digital camera into a bird's nest when unable to see what's being photographed tends to produce some unpredictable results, but nevertheless, here are several images of four light green/blue eggs with brown mottled markings. Maybe someone will know what kind of bird lays this kind of eggs.
The day the egg pictures were taken was 18th April. The window faces approximately West, and it's a reasonably sheltered garden in the East of England.
A few days later the eggs hatched. Again, an opportune moment was found to get the camera to look over into the nest while the bird was away. April 23rd. Sure enough, baby birds were seen!
Baby birds are an uncanny sight for sure. With their bulbous eyes, gaping yellow beaks, and downy fluff that's almost bald over a scaly yellow skin, they appear cute yet ugly, almost as if fabricated in the animatronic workshop of a sci-fi studio.
If these things had been created, then their creator would be a perverse entity indeed. However, evolution suggests a rationale for the newly born baby birds looking so odd. Their appearance may unnerve a predator, or may put the predator off its dinner. Free Range Eggs are good, but to be good they have to be fresh and infertile. If you thought they might contain something as unappetising as these baby birds, it could put you off eating eggs!
Nevertheless, I was frying free range eggs just the other side of the glass. I considered that the bird might not like the ominous smell of them, but then again, I was intent on continuing to live and eat, regardless of whether there was a bird in residence close by. Besides, the bird's eating habits weren't to my tastes either. Here you can see the bird has caught a small earthworm which is about to be fed to the chicks.
Birds in the wild don't live entirely off bird-tables; they are carnivorous and will eat small animals of the appropriate size. I noticed worms, snails, and small insects, being fed to the baby birds. Presumably the parent bird has to choose prey items which are small enough for them.
On 24th April I noticed the bird was not on the nest so I opened the window and moved the camera into position to get some images of what was in the nest. What I saw looked very sad. It appeared that the baby birds had died and the nest had been abandoned. I looked at the pictures and saw what appeared to be the dead bodies of the baby birds. It looked as if they had started to go mouldy. I know that birds can sometimes abandon their nests if the nests are disturbed or if something traumatic happened. I had been careful not to traumatise the birds, so whatever had happened wasn't my fault. Also, it seemed rather sudden that they'd be abandoned. Only the day before, they'd been OK.
Then the mother bird came back. She had brought a snail. So, evidently she did not think the babies were dead. Plus, it meant that the nest had not been abandoned. Good news, surely, but then questions remained such as: What had befallen the baby birds to finish them off? I wondered how the bird would interpret what has there to be seen in the nest, and what she would do.
By now both parent birds had arrived. They were both intent on feeding whatever was in the nest, but was this all in vain? It was now possible to see signs of life in the nest. The beaks of baby birds were pointing upwards to accept food. So, evidently they were not dead after all. Great news! But, this leaves the mystery of their apparently dead and mouldy appearance earlier on. Well maybe it's a miracle and they were resurrected from the dead! I'm not so easily convinced that such things go on in a bird's nest. My theory on this is that the birds have evolved such that one of their defence mechanisms is to look as if they are dead. Some predators are fussy and prefer to find animals that are healthy enough to be alive, and then they can be killed and eaten. Eating dead things (carrion) is something that doesn't appeal to some predators. So, by pretending to be dead, the birds give themselves a defensive advantage. The trick of "playing possum" has also been noticed in larger creatures. They tend to do it as a last resort if they are caught. Look what happened to the iguana lizard when it was caught.
So, anyway, a sign of relief, as the baby birds managed to live another day.
It's an interesting point of note that both parent birds brought food for the babies, but only the mother sat on the nest. Also, the baby birds had their eyes closed for the first part of life (a similar situation happens with kittens). However, with birds, they are expected to be "imprinted", ie to recognise their mother from the first thing they see when they hatch.
It's a classic that old people are known to say things like "My! How you've grown!", as children grow up so quickly. These birds had an extreme version of this, and the babies had gone from being eggs to being chicks and then to being large chicks, within a few days. In this photo (left) taken on 26th April, you can see the chicks are starting to grow feathers.
It is amazing how busy the birds were kept, fetching food for the baby birds and yet still guarding/warming the nest at the same time. The voracious appetites of the growing baby birds kept their parents busy.
Some of these pictures may look a bit misty, but that is because I only cleaned a small patch of glass for the camera to look through. The birds had chosen to build the nest about 12 inches (30cm) from the kitchen window, which is great for taking photos of them, but if I'd cleaned the whole window then the birds might have felt they were virtually inside the kitchen. I don't know how fussy garden birds are about close encounters of that kind. So, the idea of cleaning a small patch was a good compromise.
I made a point of visiting the birds in the covered patio every now-and-then, but without going too close to the nest. The idea was to show the birds that visitors were about but were not a cause for panic.
I felt no need to feed the birds, as they were finding plenty of stuff to feed on in the garden. The garden beyond the patio was a deliberately wild overgrown garden with a few paths cut through it so it could be viewed. Such wilderness supported plants and animals that could live in that type of ecosystem. Having a wild garden is good, although not necessarily approved of by all of the neighbours, especially those whose gardens were neat and regimented.
In these pictures, taken on 28th April, the baby birds' eyes are open. This is about five days after they were found to have hatched (23rd April).
It's interesting to see the development of the birds, and the style in which they were raised. Presumably this sort of thing has been going on for millions of years. For much of that time there would have been a shortage of covered patios and garden sheds. I expect the birds had to make-do with nest sites in a variety of natural settings, some of which had downsides. Those birds whose instincts made the better choices produced young that survived, and so the instincts of the surviving generation would also have persuasions to make good choices. The flipside of this is countless stories of misfortune where poor choice and/or bad luck have resulted in the death of the offspring and no further generations in that direction. Nature is cruel.
Curiously, though, the survival of this page is because the story had a happy ending. If it didn't, I'd probably have not have written it. The pages I write tend to have a positive aspect and are there to cheer you up. There are a great many pages at this site (see site index). There are even more pages I could write, and to go from hypothetical to real they have to have enough probabilistic combined partiality to make a whole quantum. Such is the way of un-natural selection that goes on in the schizophrenic mind.
Meanwhile, back at the bird's nest, the parent birds continued hunting small game and posting it down the throats of their four offspring. Over a period of days the young grew. By 1st May the nest was full, like a teacup that's full of tea. The volume taken up by four young birds was such thatit filled the hemispherical space of the nest. It was a nest full of birds.
The mother bird still kept nesting on top of them. It was puzzling to see how the birds could grow much bigger and still be able to fit into the nest.
It's a fact though, that you never see baby birds (at large, in the street, etc), so, somehow the young would have to grow to a size similar to that of the adults before taking flight. This apparent anomaly would have to be resolved somehow, and as this was going on just the other side of the glass, it would be revealed, in time.
The birds seemed unworried and unaware of any such anomaly, and continued with more obvious considerations such as finding food, defending themselves, keeping their young warm, etc.
When you look at it closely, there does seem to be an anomaly, as the birds have to make the transition from tiny things in a nest to being full-size birds. As if making the transition from being eggs to being birds wasn't enough. However, putting the anomaly in perspective: the growth is so rapid that it represents a very short period in the bird's lifespan of several years. So, it shouldn't affect the problem of baby pigeons which has puzzled people for a long while. These birds obviously aren't pigeons, but their lives may be similar enough to illustrate the situation. The birds grow until they are big enough to fly, and then only after that are they seen in the streets.
These pictures may help to show what's going on. You can see already the young birds have started to develop characteristics that make them look like birds. Their eyes give an impression of being something of this world rather than being something "uncanny" as per when they first hatched from eggs.
Here, you can see birds starting to "overflow" from the nest. It's obviously a very tight squeeze in there.
Also, nomatter how big the young birds are, they can't feed themselves until they can fly away to find food. So, until then, they need to be fed. In one of these pictures you can see how big the young birds are in comparison to their parents, while they are still being fed.
It's amazing to think that these birds have several clutches of eggs each year. They go through all that trouble to raise another brood, again and again. Such effort! Plus, considering that rate at which birds are being produced, it's a wonder there aren't more birds about!
In case you're interested, these photos are 7.1 megapixels and were taken with a FujiFilm Finepix S5700 digital camera. It's the optical zoom that's the key feature of this camera rather than the megapixelage. The images I've put online are versions which have been cut down to a more manageable size. However, I still have the originals in their full size. So, it's possible to display a close-up of the eye of the bird, for example.
In these final few pictures before the fledging, you can see the size of the young birds and the difficulty with which they try to fit into the nest.
The birds fledged on the 4th May 2010, only 19 days after the first of the photos (16 days after the picture of the eggs in the nest). This is a faster development than the figures quoted in most textbooks when stating the fledging times of birds of similar types.
The little birds seemed to know instinctively how to fly. They didn't need to learn by example.
If you think you have developed the power of flight, it's best for safety reasons to make your first attempts at flight from the ground, rather than leaping off somewhere high up. These birds didn't have any such safe option as making their first flights from the ground. They had to jump off the top shelf. They did this very soon after leaving the nest.
As the top shelf had a great many flower pots and no free flat space, the young birds moved from the nest to a vacant flower pot nearby. This has produced some cute imagery.
Two small birds in a flower pot.
The last of the birds to leave the nest looks like it has yawned before take-off, which is odd, as it would be expected to be a momentous event in the life of a bird, the moment when it first takes flight! Maybe it's just nervous, rather than bored? It's something that's a matter of speculation, what thoughts a bird may have just before taking to the wing for the first time.
The penultimate picture in this story is the image of the empty nest. After a few days, it was clear the birds weren't going to re-use the nest, so it was reasonable to examine the nest more closely. On closer inspection, it appears that the nest was made around a flower pot which happened to be there already on the top shelf, and was about the right shape and size to use as a base for the nest. It would be interesting to know whether this often happens. Do birds generally re-use objects as formers to fit their nests into/around?
The final picture shows the way the birds went, out into the wild world.
Also see birds, RSPB, gardens, and another story like this in pictures, Tale of the Lizard
This is featured at Zyra's website, an online resource that's home to a variety of interesting features. Go on! Explore!