What Do Birds Use To Duct Tape Their Nests Together?

A flexible, resilient material for construction and repair . . . yes, we're talking about spider silk.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

A spider’s web is an intricate piece of precision engineering. And the spider silk it’s constructed with is amazing. Made from large proteins, it’s sticky, stretchy, and tough. So it’s no surprise that many small birds make a point of collecting strands of spider silk to use in nest construction—birds like hummingbirds, kinglets, gnatcatchers, and some vireos. 

Golden-crowned Kinglets, among the smallest of songbirds, build a tiny, square nest. They often use strands of spider silk to suspend the structure from adjoining twigs, like a tiny hammock.  

When a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird is building her nest, she collects the spider silk she needs by sticking it all over her beak and breast. When she reaches the nest site, she’ll press and stretch the silk onto the other materials, such as lichen and moss, creating a tough, tiny cup. Spider silk not only acts as a glue, holding the other bits together, but it’s flexible enough to accommodate the growing bodies of nestlings. And it’s resilient enough to withstand all the bustle of raising those hungry babies. 

Where we might reach for duct tape, these birds turn to spider silk.

Correction: Duct tape was previously misspelled in the story's headline. But we stand by the fact that it should be "duck tape."

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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of OrnithologyIthaca, New York. Golden-crowned Kinglet recorded by Bob McGuire; Ruby-throated Hummingbird recorded by G A Keller.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org     April 2016     Narrator: Michael Stein