Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Anonymous. September 1, 1912. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 47(49): 1-M. Includes three photographic cuts of mounted birds with their nests. Typographic changes made in transcription.

Nebraska Birds Are Right There as Architects

From Humming Bird With His Beautiful Lichen-covered Tree Home of Down and Spider Webs to Bigger Structures.

But Some of Them Are Too Lazy to Build Any Kind of Dwelling, Laying Eggs on the Ground.

A house built of spiders' webs sounds like a flimsy structure. And yet is one knew where to look, and searched long enough he might find such a domilcile near Omaha.

It would be one of the "tree houses," and he would have to look carefully before he found it. It is the home of the ruby-throated humming bird.

When it comes to the building of their own homes, architects will have to bow gracefully to some of these feathered citizens of Nebraska, and acknowledge that they draw first prize for artistic plans and location, and skillful building.

Supposing every man had to build his own home himself, what would be the result. Imagine some soft fingered aristocrat of the big trust, getting out and attempting to erect a structure to house his children. Picture a famous musician or painter, attempting to work out his artistic temperament with a hammer, nails and saw.

The result would be just like it is in bird land - of bird air. There would be houses of wonderful construction, dainty home-like dwellings. There would be other coarse structures that barely served as protection. And there would be still others with no homes at all, who would want to "sponge" on the rest of the world.

All of these types are found among the birds. Some of them build the softest and prettiest nests, others build rough structures, and still others use old nests of other birds, or lay their eggs in one or these new little homes, while Mrs. Bird is away for a time.

Humming Bird Nest.

The humming bird does not make his nest entirely of spider webs, but when he can get some of these he weaves them in.

The nests are very difficult to find. There are not many of the humming birds around Omaha, although the ruby throated humming birds is found occasionally.

Lawrence Skow, who resides at Florence, and is a great student of birds, found on of the nests near Florence a few months ago. But he only found it by watching one of the birds and following it. He secured the nest and mounted it with the bird. The photograph of it was taken where is hangs in the rooms of the Northwestern School of Taxidermy.

The nest is only a tiny one, about an inch in diameter, and an inch in depth. So small is it that when even the tiny humming bird is occupying it her long bill and tail stick up on opposite sides in comical fashion.

The nest is a beautiful creation of plant fibers, spiderwebs and lichens. The inside is lined with a vegetable down substance. Then comes a matted layer of the fine wings of certain flying seeds, closely laid together.

Largely responsible for the beauty of the nest are the lichens thickly glued on the outside of it, with the saliva of the bird. Whether the lichens are put on to satisfy the artistic sense of the little home builder, whether it is to help hide the nest, or whether it is to make it firm and keep out the moisture, it anyway satisfies all three of these. Bluish-gray lichens that vegetate on trees and fences are used.

The humming bird lays two tiny white eggs in this little nest.

The nests are generally on the upper side of a horizontal branch, not among the twigs, but on the body of the branch itself. If the birds are small they have a temper that is big enough for an eagle. If any one comes near their little home they will bash at him as though they would run their long bills right into him, and squeak and twitter in the most excitable and amusing fashion. The nests look like a bunch of moss or enlarged limb.

The wood pewee, a bird about twice as big as the humming bird, builds its nest in much the same fashion, and has also a very beautiful one. A writer describes this nest as follows: "It is almost universally saddled upon an old moss-grown and decayed limb, in a horizontal position, and is so remarkably shallow and incorporated on the branch as to be easily overlooked. The body of the fabric consists of wiry grass and root fibres, often blended with small branching lichens, held together with cobwebs and caterpillars' silk, moistened with saliva. Externally it is so coated over with bluish lichens as to be hardly discernible from the moss of the tree. It is lined with fine root fibres and slender grass stocks. There is a peculiar symmetry and cup-like finish to this nest, which is only equaled by that of the humming bird."

Have No Nest.

At the opposite extreme are the whippoorwill and some other birds, which build no regular nest. As is shown in the accompanying picture, the female deposits her eggs among the fallen leaves in a shady portion of a woods. If anyone approaches her she will remain until nearly trodden on, and then she will suddenly flutter from her place and limp away with wings and tail awry, and making a great pretense that she is wounded, hoping thus to lure the intruder from following her away from the eggs. The whippoorwill is a night bird, keeping closely in the shady woods during the day. Consequently it probably has objections to working at house building at night.

The nest of the cat bird, which is quite similar to the nests of many of the song birds which build in hedges, thickets or trees, is also shown here. The photograph is of a mounted bird and nest in the store of George Aulabaugh, taxidermist and furrier. Mr. Aulabaugh has taken a number of special summer trips after specimens of birds for his large collection in the library, and is a student of their peculiarities.

The pied billed grebe, more commonly known as the "hell-diver," builds itself a floating nest on a pile of decayed vegetation. Then during hot weather it will cover the eggs up with nesting material and leave them often for quite a period.

The night hawk is another bird that doesn't care to be bothered with nest building. At one time Mr. Aulabaugh noticed a night hawk flying around the Arlington block. He wondered where its nest might be, and so watched the bird for days. Finally he found the two mottled gray and white eggs lying on the gravel on the roof of the building.

If these hawks do not lay their eggs on the gravel roofs of buildings they find a place on the ground or even on bare rocks in a pasture.

"You would expect to find a wood duck's nest along the shore somewhere," said Mr. Aulabaugh, "but instead you will find their eggs in some old abandoned crow's nest in a high tree," (These birds even lay eggs in an old squirrel's hole in the tree, or that of a large woodpecker).

"I once found a mallard's eggs in a hawk's nest, but ordinarily they build their nests near the water."

The herons build large nests or platforms of sticks lined with smaller twigs. A nest is some two feet in diameter and is generally very filthy, as the heron is a poor housekeeper.

The night herons nest in colonies.

Build in Banks.

There are a number of birds which build their nests in earth banks. AMong these are the kingfishers and the bank swallows. The kingfisher's nest is at the end of a two or three-foot tunnel in a sandy bank, and sometimes it is even six feet from opening to nest. The tunnel terminates in an enlarged chamber, where the eggs are laid on the earth.

The bank swallows nest in colonies in holes in banks, laying the eggs on a grass nest in an enlarged chamber at the end.

The barn swallow has a distinctive nest. It is a bowl-shaped structure made up of pellets of mud cemented together with the bird's saliva. It is made soft and arm by lining it with feathers. The nest is attached to rafters in barns, the opening being in the top. The cliff swallows build somewhat similar structures, fastening them to cliffs or on the outsides of buildings, but the opening is at the side.

The orioles are among the best nest builders. The brilliant Baltimore oriole builds a nest like a bag, about three inches in diameter and five inches deep. It is skillfully woven of plant fibres, threads, etc., and suspended from the terminal portions of limbs high in the air.

Then there are the birds who build their nests in the trunks of trees. These include the woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatch, chickadee, blue bird and others. The woodpeckers are especially good at digging away at hollow limbs or trunks. These birds are better provided with shelter in case of rain or cold weather than other birds in their flimsy structures.

The cow bird is the "vag" of bird life. She is too lazy to even hunt up an empty house for her nest. She doesn't want to be bothered with housework. Mrs. Cow Bird will lay one egg in the nest of some other bird, such as the towhee, redstart of yellow warbler. These other birds will hatch her egg and then the young cow bird, being larger than the other little birds, will "hog" a good share of the food that the mother bird brings.

The towhee is a good example of those birds who build their nests on the ground. It is made of strips of bark, grass and leaves, and is placed in a clump of grass or weeds right on the ground.

The pretty little indigo bunting builds his of grasses and places it just above the ground in shrubs or bushes.

The red-eyed vireo plans to keep up with the news of the world while on the nest. It weaves a basket-like structure of bark and fibres and often works in pieces of newspaper. The nest is lined with fine grasses.

If one wants to find a phoebe's nest, the place to look is underneath a bridge, or culvert. The nest is of mud, grasses and moss, plastered to the sides of beams or logs.

Some birds prefer strange companions to bothering about making a nest. The burrowing owls nest in holes in the ground. They are even commonly in prairie dog towns, as they are thus saved the bother of burrowing, themselves. Owls, rattlesnakes and prairie dogs have all been found in the same hole.

These few descriptions give only an idea of the different kinds of nests that are built by birds found in this region.

Frank Chapman in his book, "Bird-life," says of the nest building:

"The material used by the birds is as varied as the nature of the sites they select. Grasses, twigs and rootlets are the standard materials, but plant down, plant fibres, bark, leaves, lichens, clay, spider's webs, hair, fur and feathers, are also used, while in some cases a gummy secretion of the salivary glands furnishes a kind of glue.

"Birds have been classified according to the manner in which they employ these articles, as weavers, tailors, masons, molders, carpenters, felters, etc.

"Sometimes both sexes assist in the construction of the nest or one bird collects the material while the other adjusts it. Again the female performs the task alone, aided only by the encouraging voice of the male."

He gives reasons for the different character of nests of different birds as follows: necessity for production; conditions imposed by locality; conditions of the young at birth; whether feathered or naked; temperament, whether solitary or social; structure of the bird, that is, its tools, bill and feet; feeding habit; inherited habit or instinct; and changes of habit, such as chimney swifts changing from their early habit of nesting in hollow trees where natural enemies could get them, to the comparative safety of chimneys, where they now nest.