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Archive for November 29th, 2006

Building materials

I had a hard job the other day when I decided to remove the completed mulch from one of my compost bins.  The elm trees discovered several years ago that compost piles are wonderful nutrient and water sources.  If I don’t turn them often enough, I will find them laced full of feeder roots  when I finally want to use the mulch.

Those roots make it extremely hard to extract the mulch from the bin, and then there is the question of what to do with all of those roots that have not composted.  For a while I tried to separate all the roots from the mulch and add them to a pile for composting.  I have given up on that.  I just mulch with the compost, roots and all.  In the spring time, the birds find those long stringy roots to be quite wonderful nest building materials.

I love bird nests, they are such miracles of construction.  A couple of years ago, my sister discovered the nest site of a pair of orchard orioles.  In the fall, when they were through with it and had migrated, she cut it out of the tree and brought it to me.

orchard-oriole-nest.jpg

What a miracle of weaving this nest is.  Here is a closeup:

nest-closeup.jpg

I have read all those articles about how to encourage nesting activity, and they always give suggestions of things to leave for the birds to use.  I have found that the things suggested are usually ignored in favor of something the bird has fixated on all by itself.

A while ago I wrote about blue jays and told how they stole my plant tags for nest materials.  They are not the only birds that have busied themselves about the place stealing items for construction  activities.  The wrens steal the moss from my hanging baskets.  Any bit of string lying around is fair game, and plastic bag shreds from the local ditches are also very popular.

The horses next door leave mane hair in the fence.  I find that beautifully woven into the center cups of many nests on the place.   

One year I watched a robin making prodigious leaps up by my pergola.  At the top of every jump, he would grab spanish moss from a hanging basket, then fly off with it gleefully.  The moss was there to keep the soil in the basket, and when the robin was done building his nest there were serious repairs to be made.   I noticed that when I was watering the basket and the dirt started falling out of it.

Hanging at the front of our wood shed there is a blue plastic tarp woven of strips of plastic about an eighth of an inch wide.  It is there to keep the wood dry when the rain comes from the west.  At least that is what I thought it was for.  It has started to unravel, and as far as the birds are concerned, those strands of blue plastic make admirable nesting materials. 

I observed a fixated robin a few years ago as he attempted to fly off with a piece of twine that was securely tied to a grommet on the same tarp.  Never mind that I had a stash of jute twine in appropriate lengths available on the bush nearby.  He wanted THAT piece, no other would do.  He would pick up the end, and try to fly off.  When he got the end of his rope (so to speak) he would be summarily jerked to the ground.  He would sort of pick himself up, shake a bit, and then grab that piece of string and try to fly off with it.  At first I was amused, then I felt sorry for him.  I went out with my kitchen shears and cut the twine free, and as soon as I went back inside he was there, grabbing that twine.  “I KNEW I could get it, if I just kept at it long enough,” I could almost hear him think as he he flew off successful, carrying that twine.  I wonder why it was so perfect?

I have a friend who lives out in the woods.  We were talking about birds and nesting, and he told me about the cheeky titmice that live around his place.  He likes to sit outside to brush his hair in the morning.  When he is done, he cleans the hair out of his brush and leaves it blowing in his garden for the birds to use as nest material.  One spring he was not producing hair fast enough for the titmice.  They landed on his head and yanked hair right out of it.  “Hurry up and go bald,” they seemed to be saying.  “There is nest to be built, you know!”

Building materials are everywhere if you are a bird.  It doesn’t take money to build an avian home, just imagination, concentration and effort.   We could learn from the birds.

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