The Nests of Birds
I F you want to know how cleverly nests are made, you should collect a few which the birds have deserted, or from which the young birds have flown.
You will find a Hedge-sparrow's nest in many a hawthorn bush, and though it is a simple nest, I think you will find, if you pull it to pieces, that you cannot put it together again as well as the bird did.
A Chaffinch's nest is more finely woven. You will most likely find one in the apple trees in the orchard. It is made of dry grass and moss matted together with wool in the shape of a deep cup, and lined with hair and feathers. Outside, the bird will most likely have stuck pieces of grey or white lichen. Lichen is the papery-looking plant which grows on apple trees, and which children call grey moss. The pieces woven in help to hide the nest in an apple tree. When the Chaffinch builds in a green hedge she often uses green moss instead.
Now try to find a Thrush's nest. It may be in a laurel-bush or a fir-tree. It is large and quite firm, not soft like the hedge-sparrows nest. For the thrush plasters the inside with mud, or cow-dung, or rotten wood, till it is almost as hard as the inside of a cocoa-nut shell.
When you have looked at these nests, you will want to see one built next spring. But this is not so easy. For birds try to hide the cradles of their little ones, and do not like to work when anyone is near.
Rooks are the easiest to watch, for they build in high trees, and therefore are not shy. You may see them flying along with pieces of stick in their mouths, and bringing mud and clay to plaster them together. Sometimes you may see the old rooks staying behind in the rookery, to steal the sticks from the nests of the young rooks while they are away, instead of fetching them for themselves.
Birds do not all make the same shaped nests. The Lark makes her nest of grass in a rut or a furrow of the field. The green Plover or Peewit, whose cry you know so well, "pee-weet, pee-weet," lays a few bits of grass, or rush, in a marsh or in a rough field. Her little ones run about as soon as they come out of the egg.
The Swallows build their nests of mud and straw on the rafters of barns, or under the ledges of chimneys, in the shape of a shallow basin, and line them with feathers. But the Martins build under the eaves. They make their nests of clay stuck against the wall like a bag, with only a small hole at the top. It is very funny to see the tail of a martin sticking out, when she puts her head into her nest to feed the young ones.
The Woodpecker makes a hole in a tree for her nest, and lines it with chips of wood. The Nuthatch looks out for a hole in a branch, and lines it with flakes of bark and dry leaves. Then, if it is too big, she fills up the opening with clay, all except one little hole.
Rooks and Pigeons build coarse nests. The rooks build theirs of sticks and turf lined with grass and moss. The pigeon leaves hers so loose that the eggs almost slip through.
Then the little singing birds, the Warblers, the Thrushes, the Nightingales, and the Robins build lovely cup-nests. Reed-warblers weave their nest round two or three reeds, or other plants, near the water. It is made of blades of grass and lined with water-weed. The Wren, the long-tailed Titmouse, and the Chiff-chaff, build nests in the shape of a ball, with a hole in one side. The chiff-chaff lines hers with a beautifully soft layer of feathers.
Wrens build in all sorts of strange places, in walls and trees, in holes of rocks, on the tops of hedges and on the banks of rivers. If you look about near the nest in which the wren has laid her eggs you will often find one or two other nests built exactly like it, but not lined with feathers. They are called "cock's nests." We do not know why the birds build them. Perhaps one day you may find out if you watch. The chiff-chaff hides her nests in the hedges or banks, and the long-tailed titmouse loves to build in the gorse bushes.
Once two Wrens were watched building their nest in a juniper tree. They began at seven o'clock in the morning. The mother wren brought some leaves from a lime-tree. She put one leaf in a fork of the tree, and laid the others round it. Then she went back for more. So she went on all day, bringing in leaves, and matting them together with moss, and all the while the cock-wren sang to her from the top of the tree.
By seven o'clock in the evening she had made the outside of the nest, in the shape of a ball with a hole in one side.
Next day the two birds began work together at half-past three in the morning. They worked for eight days, carrying in moss and feathers. When they had done, the nest was a firm little ball, lined with a thick layer of soft feathers, for the wee wrens to lie in, when they were hatched.
Then the mother wren laid five small white eggs with a few red spots upon them, and sat for a whole fortnight, while her mate sang to her, and brought her insects to eat.
Examine nests. Mud-built—swallow, martin. Roughly woven—house-sparrow. Cup-nests—hedge-sparrow, chaffinch. Woven and mud-lined—thrush.