A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

Anatomy of a Phoebe Nest

For years we’ve had phoebes using the same nesting site under the eave of our porch.  This winter, the nest finally fell down.  Let’s take it apart and see how it was made!

The nest seemed to be built in three layers.  The bottom layer was composed largely of mud, and served as a ‘cup’ for the rest of the nest.  The next layer was made of moss, synthetic stuffing from some sort of mattress or pillow, and a lot of a strange, coiled grass-like material.  The top layer was a portion of the nest the phoebes actually sat on, and was made of thin strips of supple bark, grasses, and more of the coiled stuff.  There was also one bit of plastic (as from a woven plastic feed-bag) in the mix.

These strange coils had us searching the woods to find their source.  The answer?  Echinocystis lobata, the Wild Cucumber.

It always amazes us that birds can build nests.  What’s so amazing about it?  Well, just spend an afternoon trying to build one yourself!  Nests are masterworks of weaving - if you do manage to build a nice one, now imagine trying to do it with just a beak and two feet.  Now consider that the phoebes not only built this nest, but they also carefully glued it to the wall with mud.  Makes one realize how impressive birds are, doesn’t it?

6 Responses to “Anatomy of a Phoebe Nest”

  1. Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice compliment! It’s always great fun to find others out there who appreciate the wonderful treats nature sets out daily.
    You’re welcome back any time-and, often!

  2. WOW! What an interesting disection! Add mud, moss , grass, wild cucumber and phoebes and you get a miracle.

  3. Thanks Nina — since we launched our blog a few weeks ago, we’ve been so encouraged to find a community of people who truly love getting outdoors. What a joy! Thanks so much for your comment, and we’ll look forward to your next posts!

  4. Hi Kathleen,

    It was really fun to take it apart and see how skillfully it was built =) We’ve visited your blog and added you to our ‘Awesome Nature Blogs’ blogroll — those pictures of the birds are fabulous! The heron is one of our favorite birds, and it was incredible to see such a close-up. We also visited your profile and laughed at the similarities — ‘No horror movies’, John Denver . . .

    Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll be excited to learn about your meeting with Jane Goodall!

  5. The most amazing thing is not only that they make nests, but that they do it without any hands!

    Don’t just try building a nest, try doing it by holding everything with your mouth 😉


  6. Hello Ted —

    Exactly! It would make a pretty fun activity to try to build one like that. We can just imagine a bunch of people sitting in a circle with grass and fur in front of them, trying to assemble nests with their mouths! It really gets you to take a closer look at birds’ craftsbirdship. =)

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