This blog idea stems from an amazing sighting myself and my guests shared of the Xinkhova female, a recently independent leopard who is still trying to establish a territory herself. In this sighting she had ventured a fair distance from her mother’s territory, the one she grew up in and is familiar with. She had killed a young Impala and hoisted it into a beautiful Marula tree fairly close to the airstrip.
A stunning young female with a very similar spot pattern to her mother, the Nkoveni Female. Litter still completely intact March 2022.
Whilst we sat and enjoyed a quintessential African bush afternoon with a leopard in a tree and the sun slowly started to set our attention was quickly turned from this unreal scene to a male Yellow-billed Hornbill flying to and from a cavity within the Marula. Each time he would do so he would return with a new item of food in his bill and squeeze it through a tiny gap in the trunk of the tree. We could hear the ruckus of the chicks and female coming from within the cavity as the male fed them all, while they were confined to the nest within the tree. For half an hour we were transfixed as this feeding process took place and it sparked a very interesting conversation as to why hornbills go through such effort to create these enclosures within a cavity in a tree rather than using another nesting technique.
In today’s blog, I’m going to look at the different ways birds nest and the advantages that each different type brings. The evolution of bird nests involves the adaptation of different types of bird species to their environments and the development of specialised behaviours and structures to suit their needs. In essence, the ultimate goal of any nest is to find shelter as well as protect their eggs and young from predation.
Cup nesting birds
Cup nests are often lodged within dense trees and used by smaller birds. They are often made from twigs and grasses and are lined with softer materials. The advantages of this type of nesting other than protection and shelter is that it aids in breeding success as incubation of the eggs is a lot easier due to the compactness of the nest.
Platform Nesting Birds
If you take a drive along the river towards one of the crossing points into the northern parts of the reserve there is an amazing example of platform nesting and that is the Grey Herons. They have created these beautiful platform nests in the Giant Reed Grass in the middle of the Sand River and they are busy raising their chicks at the moment which is very exciting. These elevated nesting sites provide great protection as the parents are able to detect danger coming from far away as well as keep an eye on the surroundings.
Cavity Nesting Birds
A great example is the one I used earlier of the Yellow Billed Hornbill. Some theories suggest that the evolution of hole-nesting behaviour may have been influenced by the availability of suitable nesting sites, such as hollow trees or cavities in cliffs. Other factors that may have played a role in the evolution of hole-nesting behaviour include the size and shape of the bird’s body, as well as the specific ecological niche it occupies. Cavity nests also provide great insulation when birds are rearing their chicks which results in a greater success rate.
Pendant nesting Birds
Pendant nests are nests that are suspended from a branch or other structure. They are often used by birds that need to be close to the water, and a great example is that of Village and Lesser masked Weavers. The advantage of nesting over water is the eggs and chicks are out of harm’s way from ground predators as well as the water has a cooling effect which can be beneficial for the eggs and chicks during hot weather.
Ground Nesting Birds
Although easier to construct these birds’ nests are the most vulnerable as both ground and avian predators are a big threat. In order to combat this threat they will try to hide them away as best as possible often using ingenious ways of camouflage to protect their eggs. Nesting on the ground can also help regulate the temperature of the eggs and chicks, as the ground stays at a more consistent temperature than the air does.
Ultimately all types of nests are there for the protection of the eggs and chicks as well as protection from the elements. Next time on safari make sure to keep a hard look out for the various nesting habits of the abundance of bird life on offer.