Nests and baskets: were birds the first basketmakers?

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Posted Apr 21 2021 by Ruby Taylor of Native Hands
Dunnock: nests and baskets

Featuring weavers, dunnocks and wrens, Ruby Taylor of Native Hands reflects on nests and baskets, asking if birds were the first basketmakers.


It was made and laid last spring, during the first lockdown, in a town centre shrub. barely concealed, and less than half a metre from the ground.

It was a time when there were few humans (or their dogs) on the streets, and it obviously seemed like a good location… but then the birds must’ve been distrubed later while incubating, and abandoned it. I discovered it in the late summer, when the dunnocks were long, long gone.

Dunnocks are small brown birds, similar to sparrows but with more grey, less white, and a finer beak. You often see them hopping about on the ground under hedges searching for insects. Top on the list of most Dunnock facts you’ll hear about is their mating habits: females are often polyandrous and paternity is usuualy shared between males of the group.

Were birds the first basketmakers?

Weaver bird nests have been analysed to show that the birds know right different knots. I’d wager that most of us might manage a couple of different knots that we know well and use regularly (unless you’re a rigger/sailoer/climber/farmer).

An abandoned dunnocks' nest

This dunnock nest is small and compact, the central part only about 5cm diameter. It’s also unbelievably soft – downy white feathers, moss and thousands of thin plant fibres woven together. Hours of patient activity to create. It looks so snug.

This one was made by wrens out of straw wisps, lined with moss and feathers. The inside feels so soft and cosy. I found it one winter, long after the birds had gone, in the rafters of a thatched roundhouse we were re-roofing.

A wrens' nest

Wrens are a tiny bird, and if you see one it’ll probably be hopping about the undergrowth. Its narrow tail is sometimes cocked up vertically and the plumage is brown. If you get a good view you’ll see just how beautiful and rich its markings are. It has an incredibly beautiful song. Hard to believe such a small bird can create such a sound… when you see one singing it looks like its giving absolutely everything to it.

Wren

Sometimes I wish I had a human sized version of these nests. Wouldn’t that be amazing… maybe I’ll make one.


Ruby Taylor of Native HandsAbout the author

Ruby Taylor of Native Hands has been a maker since she was knee-high, and a teacher for over 20 years. She runs popular courses in Wild Basketry and Wild Pottery using foraged materials in the woods. She has experience of a wide range of basketry techniques and also works as part of a team teaching ancient crafts and technologies.