Different species of birds lay their eggs in a variety of places. Some birds build tiny nests in bushes, and some build enormous nests in tall trees. Some lay their eggs directly on the ground or on rocky ledges. Those birds that build nests use many different types of materials. In this project you will try to build your own bird nest using only natural materials that you can find outside. Can you build a better nest than a bird can?
Depending on where you live you might sometimes see bird nests outside. In cities you might see them tucked along building ledges, and in suburban or rural areas you might find them more often in bushes or trees. If you look closely (without disturbing a nesting bird or the eggs), you can probably see what materials the nest is made out of. Some birds weave together grass and twigs to form a basket. Others might use binding materials, such as mud or even their own saliva to build or help support the nest. Depending on the location and climate of the bird's habitat, bird nests might need to serve different purposes. Birds in a cold climate, for example, might line their nests with insulating materials, such as grass, to help keep the eggs warm. Birds in a warmer climate might use rocks instead because the gaps allow better air flow to keep the eggs cool. Birds that build their nests on the ground might want to keep them well camouflaged to help hide them from predators, and birds that build their nests in trees need them to be well supported so they don't get blown out by a gust of wind. All of these different factors result in nests that are different sizes and shapes—and made from different materials.
No matter how they build their nests, wild birds have one thing in common: they rely on materials they can find outside. In this project you will challenge yourself to build a bird nest that can safely hold an egg using only natural materials. That means you cannot use any tape, glue or tools, such as scissors.
- At least one chicken egg (or small rock or other round object that you can pretend is an egg)
- Assorted natural materials that you find outside, such as twigs, grass, leaves, dirt, rocks, sand, water and so forth. The materials you have available will depend on where you live—just like the birds!
- Bucket or other container to collect materials
- Internet access (optional; this will help if you are not able to easily find any bird nests outside.)
- Tray or other flat surface (optional; if you'll be building your nest inside, build your nest on a tray or other surface to make cleanup easier.)
- Go outside to see if you can spot any bird nests. If you find one, observe it carefully from a distance—but don't get too close and disturb the nesting birds or eggs! Can you tell what materials the nest is made of?
- If you can't find any bird nests outside, look on the internet to find photos of bird nests. How many different types of nests can you find? What are the nests made out of?
- When you are outdoors, look around you for materials you can pick up easily, such as twigs and small rocks. Make sure you read the background section above and think about the purposes different materials could serve. What materials do you think would make a good nest? Do any of them match the nests you saw in person or online?
- Use your bucket to gather a bunch of nest-building materials. Note that this is a convenient time-saving tool for you, but birds don't have that luxury. They have to make many back-and-forth trips, often carrying one twig at a time!
- Now use your materials to try to build a nest that will be able to safely hold at least one egg. This is an open-ended process—there is no single "correct" procedure to follow.
- "Test" your nest (gently at first). Can you blow on it or place an egg inside it? Does the nest fall apart or stay together? If it falls apart, what can you change to make it sturdier?
- Extra: Some birds resort to building nests with human-made objects, such as bits of plastic bag, string or cloth. Can you build a bird nest with human-made materials instead of natural materials? How do your two nests compare?
Observations and Results
You might find that building a bird nest can be surprisingly difficult! If you made a pile of dry material, such as sticks or grass, your nest probably didn't stay together very well. It might have disintegrated if you blew on it. You can make your nest much sturdier by weaving the materials together to form a basket or using a binding material, such as mud, as "glue" to hold the pieces together. Now the next time you see a bird nest, perhaps you'll be even more impressed with these feats of engineering!
When you are done with your bird nest–building, return all your natural materials back outside where you found them.
More to Explore
Eight Different Kinds of Bird Nests and How to Spot Them, from Birds & Blooms
Bird Nests: Variety Is Key for the World's Avian Architects, from Smithsonian Insider
Structural Science: How Strong Are Eggshells?, from Scientific American
Bird-Spotting Science: Predict a Bird's Lifestyle Based on its Feet, from Scientific American
STEM Activities for Kids, from Science Buddies
This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies