Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nesting Instinct: Even An Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin by Irene Kelly

Murres are seabirds that lay their eggs on the edges of cliffs--but they don't worry about them rolling off.

The eggs are so pointy that they roll in a tight circle if they are nudged.

Each egg has its own special pattern, so the parents can always find it.

As nest builders go, murres are definitely minimalists--saving their energy for the care and feeding of their, um, non-nestlings. Other birds go the other way. The American eagle constructs a woven stick nest which is a veritable McMansion, weighing up to a ton or more, and the horned coot builds its own "Fantasy Island" by dropping thousands of gathered stones into a lake until the pile is high and dry enough for its nest, a mass of rocks which on completion can weigh more than an elephant! Another variety, the sociable weaver, prefers to go the co-op route, building avian apartments with chambers for up to 200 individual nests.

Harried home improvers can sympathize with the plight of the poor male masked weaver, who painstakingly weaves a complex hanging basket of carefully torn leaf strips to please his mate, However, she has the right of first refusal, and if the nest doesn't please her, her mate willingly disassembles it and begins the home renovation all over again. Still, he has an easier time than the poor male Vogelkop bowerbird, who spends months constructing a double-arched bower of woven straw with an enticing collection of colorful leaves and berries artfully arranged in neat piles before the door to attract his mate. But even he probably feels more rewarded than his cousin the satin bowerbird, whose similarly elaborate bachelor pad is abandoned once he mates with his lady love, who promptly downsizes (too much upkeep on the bower?) for a much simpler nest for her eggs nearby.

Some birds put their energies into protecting their offspring. Cowbirds and cuckoos simply pick out another diligent species and drop their eggs off in the other birds' nests to be raised. One bird, the hornbill, seems to have a Rapunzel complex, sealing the female up inside the hole in a tree with mud and feeding her through a tiny hole for weeks until her eggs are hatched and ready to move on. The yellow-rumped thornbill, however, goes for camouflage, building a double-chambered hanging nest, with the top nest a fake to fool predators who assume it is abandoned while the young nestlings flourish in the lower chamber.

Irene Kelly's Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin (Holiday House, 2009) describes these curious and fascinating birds and many other varied nesters for young readers, backed up with an engaging design which utilizes her skillful watercolor illustrations and the creative use of shaped text and fonts to attract primary students. A world map ("Going On a Bird Safari?" showing the location of each featured nester and and engaging appendix ("You Can Help!), showing nesting materials youngsters can gather to help neighborhood birds build nests, round out this informative book.

This nonfiction book offers intriguing knowledge and the curriculum possibilities for discussion about adaptation to habitat, animal intelligence, and the varied social arrangements which enable survival in these different environments. A great book for the collections of public and school libraries and for browsing by budding young naturalists.

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