Yesterday, as I walked along the footpath just over the railway bridge as you leave Burwell to go to Exning, I was listening to the high pitched short zeep contact calls of a pair of long-tailed tits. These lovely small birds can easily be picked out by their long tails, the subtle white/black stripe on their head and pale pinkish fronts.
Long-tailed tits have staggeringly beautiful nests. Often sited in the middle of a bramble bush, their nests are ball shaped, with a small opening near the top. The outside is covered with lichen and spider’s webs, making them incredibly well camouflaged. Inside, they are lined with up to 2,000 feathers – the ultimate in cosiness.
Lichen for their nest’s exterior decoration (quite literally!) is plentifully available on the hedgerow’s branches. But I was wondering where these tiny birds manage to get so many feathers to line them. Yet once I started to look, I started seeing feathers all along the path. My guess is that one sparrowhawk kill of a pigeon results in a mass scattering of feathers, and in nature’s natural recycling process nothing goes to waste. A pigeon’s (or similar bird’s) downy feathers are designed to insulate its owner from the cold – and from the heat. Just what is needed as a bed for precious eggs or tiny chicks.
Some time ago I had the privilege of travelling to Bangladesh. In the capital Dhaka I walked along Bicycle Street which was lined with shops, each specialising in different parts of a bicycle or rickshaw. I reckon the footpath I was walking along yesterday might be known as Nest Street by the local birds…
If you fancy a challenge, put yourselves in the shoes (well, the wings) of long-tailed tits and try spotting and counting the feathers you can see as you walk. Find out how far you have to walk before you have seen the 2,000 they need for one nest!
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