People ask if I have favorites amongst all the nests that were photographed for the book. If I do the choosing from memory, without being distracted by admiring each one again, I can call up quite a few; some for my familiarity with the birds that built them; others for their unique construction techniques or their use of materials; and for a some, their rarity and what they represent for the survival of a species.
Another favorite, this fragile pile of twigs and gull feathers, was built by a pair of Bank Swallow's. Collected from Ocean Beach in San Francisco by Betsey Cutler, it was saved from certain burial by the annual winter erosion of the cliff face that a colony of Banks Swallows still calls home, if only for the breeding season.
Swainson's Thrush, Catharus ustulatus, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology,
California: Tehama County; Mineral 29 June 1925
What always appears first in the eye of my mind is this sturdy woven cup built by the Swainson's Thrush, a bird that provides the evening song in the forests of Washington state where I spent half of my life, and whose eggs are a deep aqua. I also think of this nest because I remember wondering about its collector Joseph Grinnell when I saw his name of the collection data, learning later that he was one of the early and infamous contributors to The Museum of Vertibrate Zoology, as well as its first director.
Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia, The California Academy of Sciences
California; San Francisco Co.; Ocean Beach 06 June 1960
|Bank Swallow chicks at Ocean Beach ready for their next insect.|
I have had the joy of observing that very colony. In mid-April a couple of years ago, I witnessed the males scrape the beginnings of the burrows, and later watched the arriving females join in the tunnel excavations, nest building, and brood raising. At times the sky would be teeming with these fleet aerialists, hawking insects in mad, dipping, flights. In very short time, the young chicks were waiting at the tunnel entrances for their next meal.
Golden-maskedTanager, Tangara larvata, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology
Costa Rica: Provincia Puntarenas: Helechales; E of Fiala1 May 1972
For pure curiosity, I love the image of a predated, then abandoned, wild honeycomb that became a nest cavity for a Golden-masked Tanager, and that still offered the scent of honey.
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspiaThe Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology
Mexico: Estado de Baja California: Shell Island; Scammons Lagoon 17 June 1932
Equally interesting for what looks like pure novelty, but is actually a very instinctive use of camouflage, is the mere scrape made by a Caspian Tern in a shell-covered beach, perfect cover for those lovely speckled eggs. Fortunately for this photographer, what would have normally been a loose pile of seaweed and shells (that wouldn't have survived removal from a storage box), was (brilliantly) lifted and dropped into resin by the collector for preservation.
Verdn, Auriparus flaviceps.Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
Mexico: Estado de Chihuahua: Sierra La Mojina, 24 mi W of Gallego6 September 1961
I still am awed by this small, thorny, well insulated fortress, built by a pair of Verdins, small insectivores that live in arid landscapes, don't get out of bed until the insects start buzzing, and that mate while tumbling through the air.
Akekee, Loxops caeruleirostris, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology
Hawaii: Kauai; Kokee State Park, 29 March 1970
This small cup of moss and twigs, collected in a crown of a lehua tree, was built by an Akekee, a bird found now just in the highlands of Kauai above 1800 feet. This species' ability to survive in high elevations saved it from complete decimation by the waves of malarial mosquitoes and avian pox that have caused the extinction of many other Hawaiian birds, but they are still prey to so many alien animals that have been introduced by humans since the arrival of the Polynesians.
As I extoll these first few nests, others are appearing in the slide show of my brain; the insulated creations of the winter survivalists, the Grey Jay and the Hoary Redpoll; the riveted leaves of the Common Tailorbird; the astonishing collection of fabric scraps of the House Finch, or the skeletons of the House Wren sarcophagus. Obviously I will be called to offer another tribute, and soon, for their are too many that delighted my eye and moved my heart to list, and I frankly am having trouble naming just a few.