Birds That Build Nests With Domes May Be Doomed

Apr 14, 2022 · 35 comments
Scott (Connecticut)
Something to ponder as I sit here in my domed nest.
mm (St. Louis)
I am by no means a climate change skeptic. However, I do wonder if this doomsday prophecy could eventually turn out to be something more a domes-day. A future evolutionary biologist could in fact be surprised to find that a songbird has taken up residence under the dome of their own hat!
Itzajob (New York, NY)
Bird nests, of all varieties, have always amazed me. If you set out an ample supply of building materials and told me to build a shelter, but using only my mouth, I do not think I could do it.
Chris Collins (Australia)
Your caption to the Willie Wagtail photo seems incorrect. These birds build a cupped nest with a long drainage wick from the base. I know because as a child sixty years ago I used to collect birds eggs. Not great I know but that’s what we did as kids before TV, computer games…
Fernando (Chile)
I really like The Times' articles, but this one suffers from too much anthropocentrism. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that this type of nest is better or worse than that other, we should look at those birds' nests with amazement, curiosity, and attention. Nature is the greatest teacher, something we have forgotten completely since the Industrial Revolution. If we don't revert this mindset there will be no birds's nests to be worried about. Maybe ourselves won't be around too.
Thristophe (USA)
Could it help if humans made more birdhouses?
Elizabeth (Athens, Ga.)
@Thristophe I doubt that more bird houses would make a difference. A few birds will nest in a house you provide, however, most will rebuild their open nests every year. I think they will not return to a bird house unless it is clean, at least that’s my experience. Better to keep dead trees with the holes made by woodpeckers. If we continue to build more houses, apartments, big box stores and parking lots in areas where birds nest we will continue to lose birds. Saving our wild places is the best way to help keep our wild creatures safe.
short of time (North Carolina)
I love how cost-benefit analysis found its way into the article. I'm imagining an animated bird committee meeting discussing a power point. Gary Larsen would definitely have fun with this.
Tom Wilde (Santa Monica, CA)
Just the first superb photograph of the olive-backed sunbird peaking out under the eve of its nest is enough to make any child's heart melt. (Parenthetically, I dearly wish I could go on to say that this photograph would surely make any adult's heart melt, as well, but given how some of the world's adults have seen fit to drive the entire Earth to the brink of environmental collapse, sadly I cannot.) And whose heart cannot melt at just the name of the other dome nest builder shown here? A willie wagtail! I wanna hug the person(s) who named this lovely bird! Thank you, Rebecca Dzombak and the entire crew there at The New York Times, who really work to bring these wonders of nature to so many people. Cheers~
Stephan Morrow (Manhattan)
@Elizabeth M. This is anecdotal but when I returned from L.A. in 2003 to be the caregiver of my stroke victim father who was living in an apt facing the Upper Montclair Country Club we would sit on his 2nd flr balcony and have coffee in the AM. So often there was a large varied assortment of birds that would eat @ our feeder. Some I knew like the common Mourning dove but others were wonderful discoveries: a red colored Sparrow(has an official name?), a golden finch, cardinals, Woodpeckers, crows. & one time there was an explosion of feathers three feet from my face: a Red-tail hawk had snared a dove for a meal. The bird hung limp in its talons as it sped off - it had a quick death at least. But the terrifying beauty and violence of nature stopped me cold. A clear cold morning split by a dread lightning bolt of death. My father passed away in Oct 2018 so I moved, but I had noticed that by then there were fewer varieties of birds coming by. Don't know if it was a trend but the numbers had definitely gone down. Like the end of a chapter for me and our birds. 1 more note: as a kid on a farm upstate NY there was an old barn that I sometimes found refuge in from that same father & spent hrs watching swallows build their mud drip nests. My 8yr old mind always wondered how each generation passed on the craft of building. via bird lingo? Observation? & from Father to son? Mother to? - a forced education? naughty sons? S.M. Art Dir Grt Am Play Series
CheezWiz (Philadelphia)
@Stephan Morrow Lovely musings, thanks! Perhaps red sparrow = house finch?
Thristophe (USA)
The ecological systems we need to survive are collapsing around us and we continue to treat money - something with no inherent value - as the scarce resource. It's worth pointing out that Cuba, a country that limits economic activity, is one of the only places on Earth where the environment is thriving.
JerseyGirl (Princeton NJ)
@Thristophe Just think how much the environment would thrive if Cuba were able to eliminate all economic activity.
m (ny)
This is like the husband and wife who are ornithologists and 25 years ago they went to study finches in Galapagos. They were only going to go there for six months. They are still there studying the changes in the finches' beaks.
Lawillibug (Arizona)
I’m curious if this analysis included birds that build multiple nests, such as verdins. To my eye, verdins seem highly adaptable. Verdins often utilize more than four nests concurrently, with each nest serving a separate purpose and providing different degrees and types of shelter from the elements. One nest may be densely constructed, while another is loosely constructed. The nests often have openings in different positions. They will use one nest to shelter from rain, another to shelter from the sun, and yet another to shelter from wind. The nests are usually located in different trees within their territorial range, but they may also make two nests on opposite sides of a large tree. They will also use different materials when constructing nests to be used for different purposes, and may decorate some nests with rings of flowers while others look strictly utilitarian. They are truly fascinating!
Positively (4th Street)
Wow! An amazing snapshot of life on this Earth.
Constable Dogberry (Victoria, Canada)
I’m a bit of a birder. But willie wagtail? Sounds like a well deserved pejorative description of what we used to call a lounge lizard. I see it’s Latin moniker is Rhipidura leucophrys - sounds a bit more refined anyway.
Julie (CA)
@Constable Dogberry It’s a wonderful little bird that followed us along the path as we hiked. This was many years ago, but I’ve never forgotten the name or the bird.
Chris Collins (Australia)
@Constable Dogberry I know you write in jest but FYI wagtails are flycatchers-anything but a lounge lizard . Always moving. I watch them dart across my sheep mob, nailing flies that bother the animals in summer. Need more of them
Ray (USA)
Interesting. I am watching the National Arboretum eagle cam lately and it is fascinating. There is a revolving collection of dead fish and squirrels brought in by the parents to feed the chick. They are quite the hunters! And there are t-storms brewing in the area today. I want to see how they manage those conditions as eagle nests obviously don't have roofs.
m (ny)
@Ray That is a great cam. I love the name of the FOTUS, Lotus. I love There is many eagle nests and peregrine nests.
N (US)
Fascinating. The variety of bird habitats and behavior is astonishing. The killdeer that nest on open ground in our cattle pasture, the swallows in the hay barn, the robins nest in the house porch eaves.
D Brooks (Nashua, NH)
"like a sunk-cost fallacy with feathers" Excellent.
SridharC (New York)
Earlier you posted a fantastic article on the effects of the volcanic eruption in Tonga which made be believe that we are all doomed or perhaps at the mercy of nature. What made you think only these birds are doomed because of the way they build nests? Perhaps the same volcanic atmospheric pressure will harm these birds the least because of the way they build their nests.
Barbara (N. Florida)
This year I have become more of a bird lover than ever because of Merlin Sound ID app. Now, though disabled I am still able to find out what birds are around me which has been an incredible learning experience. I had no idea that about a third of birds made domed nests. Now I have so many questions about bird behavior I am glad to read about such research as this being done as we must do more to protect them. Even in my neighborhood recently a pileated woodpecker was killed be a tree cutting contractor, actually maybe more than one was killed. No law seemed to protect them here in FL, in reality, though it looked as if one existed. No one would do anything. I am 78. Young people have to be more active in protecting species. Songbirds are so amazing! Just take time to listen. I hope you will publish more research and writing about these precious creatures who share our planet.
Ron (out west)
@Barbara the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 protects prohibits the killing, capturing, selling, trading and transport of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the USFWS. Pileated Woodpeckers are covered under this violation if there was no permit applied for prior to tree removal
Elizabeth (Athens, Ga.)
@Barbara The need some people have to remove “unsightly” trees, I.e., dead, in order to improve their landscape is unfortunate. I’ve had a dead half tree where blue birds nested in an old woodpecker hole. What was left of that tree rotted too much for more nesting. I cleaned my bluebird box and have enjoyed a lovely family who nested there this spring. Another box that was given to me had no clean out door and became home to a succession of different creatures. Bluebirds followed by a variety of guests and ending with a family of flying squirrels. We will lose species if we fail to let nature take care of areas we consider unsightly.
laurence (bklyn)
"...May Be Doomed" seems a bit farfeched. a)These species have lived through numerous threats during their millenia on Earth, and yet so many of them are still with us. b)The ancient record is, by its very nature, spotty at best; too small to draw such sweeping conclusions. c)And the list of unknown variables is almost endless. A better take-away might be "We barely know anything yet. We've got a lot of work to do." Perhaps a little more field work and less time on the computer would help.
KS (Gainesville)
@laurence Wish I could recommend this more than once.
ABly (New York)
@laurence it’s a bit of a clickbait title. May even be optimized by AI.
Elizabeth M. (Eastern MA)
Thank you, New York Times and Rebecca Dzombak, for this wonderful article that educates us about birds and what they need. They are wonders of nature and crucial partners in the world's ecosystems. My husband and I are working to preserve and improve the bird habitat features of our 5 acres. Everyone who has access to land can plant more shrubs and trees that feed and shelter birds, stop using pesticides and herbicides, keep their domestic cats indoors, and advocate for the preservation of wild habitats in the US and worldwide. Birds have suffered a huge population decline since the 1970s. We must turn that around while there are still birds to save.
l rubin (sf, ca)
@Elizabeth M. Agree. Also, elect candidates that encourage living sustainably and advocate for the environment to your legislators. Many Audubon Societies have an advocacy page on their website. MA is one of them. Cheers!
Rodin’s Muse (Arlington)
Plant native plants and leave behind old leaves and stems for them to build with. We can all help with this problem.
Sang Ze (Massachusetts)
There must be a lesson here.
F.Steinberg (NYC)
So wonderful that there are people looking after this species--humankind has been instrumental in destroying our planet and all the help that is available is a triple, triple advantage. Thanks for all the efforts to try to maintain the Earth's stability and all its creatures. Faith
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