Monday 6 March 2017

Brainy Birds

This is my newest coloured pencil drawing which recently made its debut on line and also  at a local exhibition. I call it "Master Builders (Bushtits)".

Many who have seen it have been intrigued because the nest looks like something from a TV nature program about birds in some distant land. They had no idea there were such elaborate nests to be found right here in our local woodlands. But there are!

If you know what you're looking for it's not difficult to spot these sock-like constructions dangling among branches, particularly from late fall through early spring when there are no leaves to obscure the view. I observed and photographed this one (below), which served as the reference for my "Master Builders" drawing, at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary a couple of springs ago. At first glance it might look like just a hunk of moss but there's something artful about it that makes it more than just an accident of nature.

Even more intriguing is the fact that these intricate structures are built by one of the tiniest songbirds - plain-old ordinary bushtits which are often seen at birdfeeders. In particular, they have a fondness for suet cakes. The neighbourhood gang drops by regularly at my feeder to sample my offerings.

It's hard to imagine that these intrepid little creatures can, with just their beaks to work with, weave such large, magnificent homes. But they can! Guided only by instinct, they select the materials which they collect and transport to their building site, and then - one twig, one shred of moss, one strand of spider silk at a time - they create something amazing. Somehow they know exactly what to do and how to do it.

So the next time you see a flock of twittering bushtits consider their abilities and ponder the amount of energy and dedication it takes for them to construct their intricate nests. If you spot a nest during the spring when the birds are intent on building a home where they will brood their eggs and (providing everything goes according to plan) rear their babies, please observe from a distance. Bushtits can be put off by the presence of too much human activity nearby and can't afford to abandon construction and expend extra energy on another nest in a new location.

There are lessons to be learned in nature. Ordinary little bushtits are master builders who are pre-programmed with nest-building know-how, who have boundless perseverance, and who are undaunted by a seemingly insurmountable task.

Personally, I think they give the term "birdbrain" a whole new meaning.

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