Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build

OUR VERDICT: Both models show a very low degree of curvature of the field and average level of chromatic aberration. Images are bright and sharp.

This well-illustrated and detailed guide to the engineering inventiveness of bird nests and other structures offers an eye-opening and reasonably comprehensive survey.

The book’s stated gimmick is the rendering of typical styles of nest as architectural plans, but really each is depicted as an annotated drawing rather than an actual blueprint. Even so, nests from Temminck’s Courser to Edible-nest Swiftlet are deftly covered, with much revealing information and beautiful art and photography throughout.

The nests are divided into chapters by their form, and these cover holes and tunnels, platforms, aquatic nests, cup-shaped nests, domes, mud nests, hanging, woven and stitched nests, mounds, colonial structures, bowers, and edible nests and food stores.

There is an erudite foreword discussing the efficiency, physiological adaptations and genetic influences on nest building, as well as the role of learning and imitation on their construction.

The book is not totally comprehensive, but with the basic array of nest types, species-by-species accounts are unnecessary, and those chosen illustrate the points well. The social ground scrapes of Ostrich, the internal variety of excavated sand and tree tunnels, the mud-sealed nest of Great Hornbill, the reed platform of Magpie Goose and the fragile lichen-cup of Ruby-throated Hummingbird add an air of the exotic and a sense of through-the-keyhole-ness. The strength of stolen cobwebs and the different building techniques and aesthetic sense of decoration are all summarised neatly and in a very readable format.

There are welcome asides on the injury-feigning behaviour of Killdeer, the building of ‘cock nests’ by Wren and the intricate methods used by weavers. All of this adds up to a volume that provides a neat compilation of the broader subject of bird domiciles that would be a welcome presence on any birder’s bookshelf, and certainly in any school library.

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build by Peter Goodfellow (Ivy Press, Lewes, 2013).
• 160 pages, 105 colour photographs, 135 illustrations.
• ISBN 9781908005847. Hbk, £18.99.