The bird’s nest that local Mary Gerty pointed out was lying beneath a mature cottonwood tree. A neat construction, rather tightly woven, about 2 1/2 inches high and about 2 1/2 inches across. A slight oval, cup-shaped structure, just right for a bird’s configuration.

Materials: horse hair, long grass strands, a bit of what seemed to be lichen. No apparent spider webs or lining.

Design: by instinct.

Builder: owner or owners.

Clean; most likely never used or at least never occupied by nestlings.

What species of bird made this nest? Good question.

We don’t know, so it’s guesswork and elimination. Just like so much of life. It’s pretty astonishing that each species of bird uses its own, individual typical nest design and has preferred nest sites. The variety of sites is also impressive. Somebody said that birds are known to nest everywhere but in midair, on oceans’ surfaces or underwater. A few species do build floating platforms on calm waters, though. Some nest underground. Some come close to midair by building hanging nests. Some species just find a likely ledge or scrape in the earth — even a hoofprint. As might be expected, however, related birds build nests (or don’t build them) that resemble each other.

Most land-dwelling birds build cup-shaped nests like Mary’s nest. Quoting from Colin Harrison’s field guide: “The material used is usually fairly pliable and the bird sits in the structure as it builds, placing material, pulling in loose ends and tucking them into the existing framework to one side or the other and gradually producing the typical round shape. As the softer lining is added, the bird shapes the cup to its own body, sitting in it with bill and tail uplifted, rotating a little, pressing with chin and under-tail coverts, and flexing bill and tail downwards to consolidate the rim. It also pushes backward with the feet, enlarging the lower cup a little, and the final structure fits snugly around the sitting bird leaving room for the eggs beneath it.”

All with just bills and feet. No hands. In a few days. No material deliveries. Without the ubiquitous too-loud radio blasting unwanted jungle music throughout the neighborhood. Completed on time.

Very interesting, but whose nest is this one? Best guess, based on site, size, materials and intuition: a vireo or a warbler. It would be nice to know for sure, but it was enjoyable to contemplate. Nests: one more fascinating aspect of nature study.

Look and admire bird nests but keep in mind, nests of migratory birds are protected by federal law.

This column first appeared in the July 12, 2000, Jackson Hole News and was updated with several comments from the writer. — Eds.

Field Notes: The South Park feed ground survey on Thursday, led by Jon Mobeck of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, noted 46 species in three hours time including: three wood ducks, two redheads, five Western wood pee-wee, one dusky flycatcher, one Eastern kingbird, two gray catbird, five cedar waxwings, one orange-crowned warbler, 35 common nighthawk (seen as a flock of 34 and one lone single bird). It’s been some time since a large group of nighthawks has been reported.

A wandering garter snake was also seen in South Park.

Other observations from the week include several sightings at Skyline Ranch: a Western tanager, red-breasted nuthatch, evening grosbeak feeding young, a house wren and an active cat spider.

On Aug. 5 Linda Dudinyak noted 90 to 100 tree swallows flocking and sitting on the power line on the south boundary of the National Elk Refuge at the end of the Broadway.

The fall migration of shorebirds seems to be underway as evidenced by Patty Riley’s sighting of seven black-necked stilts on a gravel bar in the Snake River, south of the Wilson Bridge.

Bernie McHugh observed a “meaningful number of hawks,” indicating that perhaps the hawk migration is also underway. Bernie’s sightings included: six red-tailed hawks, two Swainson’s, one harrier, one female sharp-shinned hawk and, six days earlier, Bernie identified a rough-legged hawk just south of the Gros Ventre roundabout.

Valley pronghorn have been seen: Frances Clark and Bernie McHugh spotted 51 on Antelope Flats; Mary Lohuis noted 19 at the north end of the refuge near Flat Creek.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at

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