10 Weird and Wonderful Bird Nests

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

It’s spring, and baby birds will soon be chirping in trees and rain gutters. But not all bird nests are created equal. Whether from mud, leaves, or saliva, here are 10 birds that make some of the most astounding structures in nature.

1. Sociable Weavers build giant haystacks in African trees.

Martin Heigan, Flickr 

This massive structure may look like a hay bale, but it’s actually a hive of nests. Like an apartment complex, it can house up to 400 Sociable Weavers. The thatched roof protects the birds in the South African or Namibian deserts by keeping the heat out by day and insulating from cold at night. Since the birds use the structure for generations, a nest can get up to 100 years old—that is, if it doesn’t break the tree limb first.

2. Malleefowl make giant mounds out of bird-made compost.

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The nesting mound of the Australian Malleefowl is among the biggest in the world. The record was 15 feet high and 35 feet across, according to Guinness World Records. To make the mound, the male bird digs a hole and fills it with organic matter such as leaves, sticks, and bark. He even turns the compost to speed decay, just like a gardener. When the compost heats up to 89 to 93 degrees, the female lays up to 18 eggs on it, one at a time. The eggs are covered in sand. During incubation, the male regulates the temperature of the mound using his beak like a thermometer. Despite all this, Malleefowl abandon their chicks as soon as they’re born.

3. Golden-headed Cisticolas sew like tailors.

The Golden-headed Cisticola from Australia uses spiderwebs to sew a living canopy out of leaves. Since the bird’s nest is only 20 inches off the ground, the camouflage protects it from predators. To make the canopy, the bird pierces the leaves with its needle-like beak and pulls a “thread” through to hold them together. This cozy cover anchors the nest so that it stays hidden as the plant grows.

4. Black Kites use trash to decorate their nests.

Fabrizio Sergio via LiveScience

Black Kites in Europe have adapted to humans by decorating their nests with strips of white plastic. While some scientists believe this is to camouflage the eggs, new research suggests that the plastic is really there to show off for other Black Kites. According to this theory, Black Kites view trash as a statement of power, like having a big house on a hill is to humans. Apparently, these birds take after people in more ways than one.

5. Edible-nest Swiftlets build nests out of saliva

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In caves in Southeast Asia, Edible-nest Swiftlets make cliffside nests out of layers of their own spit. The saliva sticks to the rock and hardens in a bracket shape that the bird uses to lay its eggs. The nests are also a sought-after delicacy for bird’s nest soup. They have no flavor and no nutritional content, but this doesn’t prevent them from being one of the most expensive foods in the world. People are so crazy for it that many countries regulate the bird nest industry to keep the swiftlet from dying out.

6. Rufous Hornero nests look like outdoor ovens

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The Rufous Hornero in South America is an ovenbird, so nicknamed because of how it makes its nest. The bird collects mud and manure and piles it into an upside-down bowl on a tree branch. The sun bakes the mud dry, making a sturdy structure resembling a clay oven. Since the birds build a new nest for every brood, there are often several mud nests in a row on the same branch, all made by the same birds.

7. Montezuma Oropendola nests look like hanging sacks.

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These birds from Central America weave pendulous nests out of vines and banana fibers. The nests can be 3 to 6 feet long and look like a ball hanging in a stocking. Since the birds live in colonies, there can be up to 150 of these nests extended from one tree, although usually it's more like 30. The female takes 9 to 11 days to make her nest. The male often watches her work, and if he doesn't like what he sees, he'll tear it apart and make her start over.

8. One Gyrfalcon nest was around when Jesus was alive.

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The Gyrfalcon (pronounced JER-fal-con) is a large white falcon that nests in cliffs in the Arctic. They use the same depression or scrape in the rock generation after generation. In 2009, researchers from the University of Oxford did radiocarbon dating on a Gyrfalcon nest and found that it was around 2500 years old. Three other nests were over 1000 years old, and fragments of gyrfalcon feathers were 600 years old. The birds have been continually using the nest since the Roman era.

9. Bald Eagle nests are huge.

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In true American style, Bald Eagles make nests far bigger than their needs would seem to indicate. When they first mate, the eagles make smaller nests, or aeries, 50 to 125 feet above the ground by layering branches and sticks in a triangular pattern. Every year, they add more to the nest until it becomes big enough for a human to sit on. The largest bird nest on record was a Bald Eagle nest found in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1963. It was 10 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

10. Hummingbird nests are tiny (and adorable).

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On the other end of the scale, hummingbird nests are so small that it’s easy to mistake them for knots in the trees. In fact, the smallest nest in the world is the Bee Hummingbird's nest, which is just over an inch wide. The hummingbird makes its cup-shaped nest by weaving spiderwebs with feathers and leaves to make it strong and stretchy, then covering the outside with lichen. The bird then lays two eggs, each the size of a coffee bean, inside. Awwww….

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. Scrapple is typically made of pig parts. Lots and lots of pig parts.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked.

As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. New York City’s Ivan Ramen even cooked it up waffle-style.

2. People were eating scrapple long before it made its way to America.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 150-plus years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. If your scrapple is gray, you're a-ok.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. Scrapple can be topped with all kinds of goodies.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. Dogfish Head made a scrapple beer.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. Delaware holds an annual scrapple festival each October.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

11 Honorable Ways You Can Help Veterans

BasSlabbers/iStock via Getty Images
BasSlabbers/iStock via Getty Images

This Veterans Day, make a difference in the lives of former military members. Just thanking a veteran can go a long way, but an act of kindness means even more. Here are 11 ways you can show vets that you appreciate the sacrifices they made.

1. Pick up the tab for a veteran's coffee or meal.

elderly man at a parade with a sign thanking veterans
Wingedwolf/iStock via Getty Images

The next time you see a veteran in a restaurant or standing in line for coffee, pick up the tab. You can do so anonymously if you would prefer, but even a quick "thank you for your service" would mean a lot to the veteran. You don't have to limit yourself to dinner or a latte—you could pay for a tank of gas, a prescription, or a cart of groceries.

2. Drive a veteran to a doctor's appointment.

military man in wheelchair talking to doctor
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Many veterans, especially those who are infirm or disabled, have trouble making it to their doctor appointments. If you have a driver’s license, you can volunteer for the Department of Veterans Affairs (DAV) Transportation Network, a service provided by all 170 VA medical facilities. To help, contact the hospital service coordinator [PDF] at your local VA Hospital.

3. Train a service dog to help veterans.

military man hugging a dog
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Service dogs aid veterans with mobile disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder, helping them rediscover physical and emotional independence. It takes approximately two years and $33,000 to properly train one service dog, so donations and training volunteers are critical. Even if you aren't equipped to train a dog, some organizations need "weekend puppy raisers," which help service dogs learn how to socialize, play, and interact with different types of people.

There are several organizations that provide this service for veterans, including Patriot PAWS and Puppy Jake.

4. Replace one light bulb in your home with a green one.

A green light bulb
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The Greenlight a Vet project is a simple way to remind yourself and others about the sacrifices veterans have made for our country, and to show your appreciation to them. Simply purchase a green bulb and place it somewhere in your home—a porch lamp is ideal since it's most visible to others. Over 9 million people across the nation have logged their green lights into the project's nationwide map so far.

5. Help sponsor an honor flight to veterans memorials.

A group of veterans visit the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C.
RomanBabakin/iStock via Getty Images

Many of the veterans who fought for our freedoms have never seen the national memorials honoring their efforts—and their fallen friends. Honor Flights helps send veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to Washington D.C. to see their monuments. You can help sponsor one of those flights.

6. Write a letter to thank a veteran.

Veterans Day parade
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Operation Gratitude is an organization that coordinates care packages, gifts, and letters of thanks to veterans. You can work through them to send your appreciation to a vet, or volunteer to help assemble care packages. And, if you still have candy kicking around from Halloween, Operation Gratitude also mails sweets to deployed troops.

7. Volunteer at a VA hospital.

a veteran saluting the American flag
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Whatever your talents are, they'll certainly be utilized at a Veterans Administration Hospital. From working directly with patients to helping with recreational programs or even just providing companionship, your local VA Hospital would be thrilled to have a few hours of your time.

8. Get involved with a Veterans Assistance Program.

veteran marching in a military parade
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There are veterans in your community that could use help—but how do you find them? Contact a local veterans assistance program, such as the one offered by DAV. They'll be able to put you in touch with local vets who need help doing chores like yard work, housework, grocery shopping, or running errands.

9. Help veterans with job training.

military men meeting in an office setting
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Adjusting to civilian life after military service isn't always smooth sailing. Hire Heroes helps vets with interview skills, resumes, and training so they can find a post-military career. They even partner with various employers to host a job board. Through Hire Heroes, you can help veterans with mock interviews, career counseling, job searches, workshops, and more.

10. Help build a house for a veteran.

Volunteers help build a house
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Building Homes for Heroes builds or modifies homes to suit the needs of veterans injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. The houses are given mortgage-free to veterans and their families. You can volunteer your painting, carpentry, plumbing, wiring, and other skilled services—or you can just donate to the cause.

11. Volunteer for an "Operation Reveille" event for homeless veterans.

military dog tag that says
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The VA continually hosts Operation Reveille, a series of one- to three-day events that give much-needed supplies and services to homeless veterans. Vets can receive everything from food and clothing to health screenings, housing solutions, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling. They take place at various places across the nation all year long, so contact the representative in your state about when and how you can volunteer.

This story first ran in 2017.

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