Few groups of animals rival birds in the architectural-aptitude department, and amidst the urban sprawl, our avian neighbours can get especially creative! We've rounded up some of the wackiest nest-building tactics we've seen – and each of these bird nests are a stark reminder that our human "stuff" directly affects urban wildlife.

Doll ball

Richard Van Schalkwyk/Facebook 

Abandoned toys seldom see the light of day, but thanks to a bit of avian ingenuity, this [au naturel] Barbie was recently up-cycled as a piece of door decor. Richard van Schalkwyk, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, spotted this "blonde weave" at his daughter's home, and he assures us the family had no part in its creation. 

"My grandson threw [the doll] on the roof," he explains. "Two days later, it reappeared in the weaver nest!"

According to Van Schalkwyk, the doll's hair was fully incorporated into the structure – an impressive achievement given that the bird must have carried it about two metres from roof to nest. "I wish I had this on video," he adds. "As of last night, the Barbie is still there. No sign of the weaver birds, though!"

South Africa is home to many weaver species (family Ploceidae), all of which thread similarly intricate bird nests. (If any ornithologists or bird enthusiasts can ID the creator of this strange spectacle, let us know in the comments below!)

Hair hoarders

What's better than doll hair for your nesting needs? Real hair! Our pets don't always make life easy for wildlife, but their locks can come in handy: many birds supplement their nests with fur from domestic animals. (They've also been known to pluck the odd strand from human heads.

In fact, wildlife officials encourage helping your feathered visitors by placing (untreated!) fur around the garden. It's important to cut any such nest offerings into fragments shorter than four inches (10cm) to prevent accidental bird entanglement. 

Pest-free pads

It's hard to imagine sleeping atop a bed of cigarette butts, but birds in Mexico City seem to intentionally surround themselves with the hazardous trash. Why? That's what researchers from Mexico's National Autonomous University wanted to find out, and a 2017 study revealed that small birds like sparrows and finches may actually use the fibres from cigarette butts as pest repellent!

Bird nests containing the most fibres also harboured fewer mites and ticks – unwanted squatters that readily feed on the blood of vulnerable chicks. Not only were the birds in the study more likely to bring fibres to a pest-filled nest, but they also seemed to prefer butts from already-smoked cigarettes, which are laced with toxic nicotine. Find out more in our previous coverage here.

Underwear bandits 

This case of clothesline commandeering isn't the only time birds have turned heads with underwear-related antics. Back in 2015, a nesting pair of red kites in Scotland made headlines for stealing a pair of boxer briefs and several socks from skinny-dippers near Glen Esk. Rangers managed to retrieve the AWOL underwear, and found even more items tucked away in the nearby trees.

This kind of nest-marking can make eggs and chicks more conspicuous, so it's a risky move by the parents – but some scientists believe it also sends an important message. Black kites, close red-kite cousins, are also known to line their nests with scavenged goods (things like white plastic, cloth and paper). Past studies indicate that the birds with the biggest hauls also tend to be the strongest and most aggressive. It's possible, then, that an impressive trash stash serves as a kind of status symbol, and a warning to rivals. 

Hang 10 

Japan's crows, on the other hand, prefer hangers to actual clothes.

Much like the rest of their corvid kin, Asian jungle crows (Corvus levaillantii) are extremely resourceful. Over time, the birds have come up with countless ways of exploiting their human neighbours – and in Japan, one of those tactics is proving quite costly for the humans.

In large, built-up cities where trees and twigs are scarce, birds have to think outside the box to ensure their nests are secure. To obtain that essential "scaffolding", jungle crows have learned to use wire hangers. 

The Japanese government reportedly spends millions of yen each year to find and destroy hanger-clad bird nests – and for good reason. Deploying so-called "crow patrols" is a matter of public safety. Because the birds tend to build their nests atop power lines, the stolen hangers sometimes cause large-scale blackouts by short-circuiting local power grids.

Spotted any other unusual nest accoutrements? Share your photos with us!


Top header image: Pixabay