Bird Nests: Nature’s Intricate Architecture

With so many opportunities to enjoy nature in our Lake County backyards, springtime is when we are blessed to view many of the planet’s 10,000-plus bird species as they commence nesting.  Now many bird species are choosing a snuggly tree cavity or chip-chip-chipping away at a limb to create a safe home. Some avian species are painstakingly constructing their architectural wonders with innumerable trips to and fro as they gather moss, twigs, and other materials in which to nest.

I’ll never forget the grebe rookery we were privileged to view on a Redbud Audubon Heron Days pontoon boat ride on Clear Lake several years ago. As we putt-putted slowly up Cache Creek we passed along some oxbows of the creek that meander nearby Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. Along the journey to the rookery there were river otters, Great blue herons, majestic white egrets, many duck species and swallows that were building homes along the muddy banks of the creek. After an ‘E’ ticket ride; lazy and dreamy, we came upon the phenomenon of hundreds of grebes, both Western and Clarks actively performing their special water ballet to attract a mate, gathering dripping, wet lake vegetation to present to potential mates, grebes sitting on their floating nests and nests chock full of eggs! What a special treat that was! The dance of the grebes is unforgettable as they synchronize their movements to ‘rush’ or run across the water to impress their mates. Grebes who were nesting used precious tule reeds which were once prolific around the lake. Around 70% of the important plants have been removed. Tule reeds used to act as an important filter for the lake, provide homes for fish and avian species as well as food and homes for the Indigenous people who once thrived here for thousands of years. The grebes’ nests were constructed in colonies which sat off of the main boating channel. It is vital to the nesting birds that boats proceed slowly, at 5 MPH to ensure that the wake does not disturb nesting birds. The wake can cause waves that engulf the nests, killing small chicks and may empty out their nests of eggs. The nesting sites on Clear Lake have been studied and monitored by ornithologist Dr. Floyd Hayes and his biology students from Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA.

You have, no doubt seen some of the many tremendous osprey nests throughout the county. There are fine examples of osprey architecture near the roundabout at Hartman Road in Middletown, both Rodman Park and Rodman Slough, Clear Lake State Park, and more. These impressive birds build magnificent structures in which to lay eggs and raise their young. With an unmistakable cry the osprey calls out, then the 26 inches-in-length bird can be viewed at its nest as high as 60 feet above the Earth, where it constructed its nest near a fishing hole. Then, the osprey makes use of various sticks and tree bark to build over an old nest, or construct a new one for the clutch of 1-4 eggs it will lay in its only brood. The osprey will line its nest with grasses and algae. Some osprey nests can be ten feet deep by six feet in diameter. The male osprey frequently gathers the nesting material while the female feng shuis the material into the position of her liking.

On the opposite end of the size spectrum is the compact cup of a hummingbird nest. I was lucky enough to hold one in my hand. My nephew found the nest, which was connected to a rotted branch that had blown down in a Sacramento park. This wondrous little home had been built with plant fibers and spider webs to ‘glue’ it to the branch. The outside was decorated with lichens in order to camouflage it further, and was about 2 inches in diameter.

There was a black-crowned night heron rookery that once decorated Library Park in Lakeport. These birds demonstrated amazing vitality and attentive care to their large nests as they painstakingly placed twig after twig just-so to create homes for their new broods; while people in the park observed  the seasonal miracle occurring directly above them. The marvel of all of these avian architects just outside our doors adds another level of fullness to our enigmatic universe.

For  more information on our local birds visit the Redbud Audubon website.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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