Monday, August 08, 2011

Book Note: Avian Architecture

Since I reviewed Bernd Heinrich's The Nesting Season on Sunday, I would like to follow up by mentioning one other book on birds' nesting behavior that was published this spring. Peter Goodfellow's Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build describes the diverse types of nesting structures that birds use around the world. Like several other books in Princeton's catalogue, Avian Architecture is the American edition of a book that originated with a European publisher, in this case Ivy Press in the United Kingdom.

The book breaks down the variety of birds' nesting structures into twelve nest types. Not all of them are strictly nests since one chapter is devoted to bowerbirds. These structure types are: scrapes, cavities, platform nests,  aquatic nests, cup nests, domed nests, mud nests, hanging and woven nests, mounds, colonial nesting, bowers, and edible nests. Each chapter deals with one nest type. It gives blueprints of typical nests within that type and then provides "case studies" with specific examples of how the nest type is implemented by the various bird groups that use it. Scrape nests, for example, are very simple to construct and tend to be used members of a few bird orders, especially Charadriiformes. Meanwhile, cavity nests are used by members of over 50% of bird orders – birds as diverse as chickadees, woodpeckers, hornbills, and Burrowing Owls.

Avian Architecture is well-illustrated with numerous photographs and diagrams. The blueprints are simple and give typical dimensions for a nest's width and depth. The case studies have photographs of actual bird nests. In some cases, the photographs are accompanied by paintings or drawings showing steps in nest construction or illustrating other aspects of nesting behavior.

Clearly, the best way to learn about nest building techniques is by watching birds construct their nests in person. Unfortunately not all of us have the leisure or travel budgets to see as many birds on their breeding territories as we might like. Given those constraints, books like Avian Architecture can help fill the gaps in our knowledge about birds' nesting behavior.