Friday, January 9, 2009

My Treasure Collection: Oriole

In my china cabinet are many little treasures. I have figurines made from pottery, glass and china and even some bread dough figurines. Mostly the cabinet is filled with eggs—real decorated eggs. (That’s another story for another time).

One of my favourite treasures that I keep in my cabinet is birds’ nests. I collect them. Just to clarify, I only collect the nests from the ground where they have fallen or retrieve them from fallen branches.

Why do I collect bird’s nests? That’s a very good question. Here are my reasons: They’re totally cool! You can learn so much about the intriguing habits of a creature by looking at their homes (God forbid if anyone came into mine or they’d wonder what kind of messy creature lived inside!)

Here's an example of what I've learned from birds:

The Oriole:
My second favourite bird is the oriole. I regret that I don’t have any personal photographs of the bird that I can share…. (this spring I'll make a point of taking some and will post them). I don’t have a zoom lens on my camera and the digital camera I’ve been using is so slow to click that you could go back in the house, brew and drink a whole cup of coffee before it takes the photo. But I digress…

This oriole nest was found on the ground after a severe thunderstorm. It was found at the beginning of fall, so the birds had long since raised their young and left the nest. I’ve kept if for years as part of my cherished collection of treasure.

People talk about bird’s brains – yes they’re pretty small—but birds can do some amazing things that I could never do (or at least not as well as them). Notice how this bird has taken the plastic strips that some careless human has tossed on the ground. They have used them as the foundation of their purse-like nest by looping the plastic over the branch to secure the nest.

The oriole’s nest hangs from tiny branches way up high in poplar trees. When the parent bird goes inside, their body weight causes the nest opening to close up completely, creating a safe and warm haven inside. The nest is constructed entirely by weaving and knitting, which the oriole instinctively knows how to do. It took me many lessons and much ripping back before I successfully knitted a garment. This bird does it with no training and hangs upside down, dangling from very high heights while constructing it!

Every spring I cut and leave out pieces of string and yarn (ATTENTION KNITTERS) – this is a great use for those stray bits of yarn. I read about this trick in my favourite birding book titled 525 Ways to Attract Birds to Your Backyard. It was during the second spring of laying out the yarn and string that I was in the back yard when I turned around and there, right in front of me was an oriole, beautiful bright orange and black and it was taking the string that I had left out for it. The bird looked over several pieces before it finally chose what it thought was the perfect string to use. It plucked it up in its beak and flew off. It was one of the most thrilling moments I can recall. I thank the author for that book which has paid itself over and over in the joy of backyard bird watching. Of course, I was so busy with my jaw hanging open that I never got a photo. I even forgot that I owned a camera.

So what did I learn from the oriole? They’re pretty smart. They can knit and sew and tie knots with anything from found bits of long grasses, string and yarn….and plastic! And they’re innovative, taking a manmade piece of plastic and incorporating it into their nest design. Their brains aren’t obviously stuck on thinking “I can only use grass”. They are able to see things outside the box, to think of plastic strips and extrapolate a way to use them. That’s a very inventive and uninhibited way to think in my opinion—pretty high end stuff for a small creature with a small brain.

I noticed that when the nest fell, it was not as a result of a failure of the bird’s nest construction. It fell because the branch broke in the storm.

To further attract this beautiful bird to my yard every spring and summer (they migrate down south for the winter) I put out two oriole feeders made up with 3 parts sugar to 1 part water. Every year the birds come regularly, usually about every 20 minutes and more often than that if it’s a rainy day. The oriole feeds on insects so if we have many days of bad weather with no flying insects, the bird will go hungry. In fact, the first time I saw an oriole in my yard was during a very rainy summer. When outside I turned around and saw an oriole trying to feed from my hummingbird sugar water feeder. I raced right out to get a proper oriole feeder. Also, I observed the bird eating peanuts that I had put out, using its beak to break them up into small pieces—this is not their normal fare. Obviously the bird was very hungry and needed some protein.

I sit here now and I ask myself why I never took pictures as I sat outside each summer and watched them come and go from my sugar feeder. If I had taken photos I could personalize this message by showing the proof. Maybe I wanted to keep this treasure all to myself for a while?

But what good is treasure if you don’t share it?

1 comment:

thecrazysheeplady said...

I saw your beekeeping picture in the comments on Whispering Pines blog (I think) and had to see who you were :-). Nice blog. Bees this spring? Anyway - glad to "meet" a fellow bird nest collector. I'll try to remember to snap a picture of my favorite oriole nest hanging in my office. We are getting ready to leave for the weekend to go pick up a walking wheel and a sheep - in the car - from NY - so I'm a little frazzled. I need a brain transplant.