Memories of a Young Birdwatcher

Why, at age 63, can I vividly remember the day I discovered my first ever Partridge and Shelduck nests aged 11?  I could take you to the precise location tomorrow and, if I could paint, I could precisely re-create those images that have stuck in my head from 50+ years ago.

Bird nests are infinitely varied in location, structure, materials, lining and design. Some are nothing more than a scrape in the ground, some an actual hole in the earth (as per my Shelduck above), some a hole in a sandbank (Sand Martin), or a hole in a tree (Woodpecker). Some nests are massive platforms high up in a fir tree (e.g. Osprey) … the list goes on and on.

For me there is something quite awe inspiring and wonderful and thought provoking about bird nests. Aged 11 I was *mesmerised*.

How does a first time nest maker know:  

  • where to build? 
  • where to find the right materials?
  • what goes where?
  • how to construct the outer shell? 
  • how to construct the inner lining?
  • where to put the entrance? 

How does it work out what will be a difficult location for predators to access?

Why does a Song Thrush create a perfectly semi-circular mud lined cup, but the Mistle Thrush nest has no such lining, and creates a nest more like that of a Blackbird? 

Why are bird eggs coloured or marked so very, very differently? It stands to reason why eggs of ground level nesters, like Partridge, need to be camouflaged - but why are Starling eggs a vivid spotless bright blue, and the eggs of a Song Thrush similar but with spots?

And then to cap my 11 year old wonderment … those eggs hatch … normally into pink, featherless, big eyed and big beaked `mini-dinosaurs`.

This love affair with birds and their extraordinary architecture has remained with me my whole life - influencing my choice of home - fronting as it does a mud-banked estuary that is home to many waders and seabirds. My binoculars hang by the door - ready at a moment’s notice to help me identify a call, a nest or an unusual new avian visitor.

The really vital legacy of those free-range days of my youth however, is my reliance upon nature to retain my physical health, resilience, positivity, balance and sense of wonder. When a Curlew calls, I’m 11 years old all over again.

Richard Cooper Feb 2022