Practice Makes Perfect for Nest-Building Weavers

It has long been assumed that the nest building skills of birds are instinctive, but new research has revealed that building a nest could very well be a learned skill. Following and filming the activities of male Southern Masked Weavers in Botswana over a period of three months, researchers noted that not all nests are created equal. As the name of the bird suggests, Southern Masked Weavers use a weaving technique when constructing their nests from local grasses. However, the method of nest building varied between birds with some weaving from left to right and others weaving from right to left. It was also noted that they appeared to learn from their mistakes, and while a bird may regularly drop blades of grass when it first starts its nest building process, it soon learns to adjust its technique to prevent this.
The brightly colored African bird was chosen as the test subject for the study for a number of reasons. Their complex nests which hang from trees either as single units or multiple intertwined condominiums are seen as evidence of above average intelligence. Also, a single bird will build several nests in a season, allowing the research team to note the differences in nests built by the same bird.
Working with scientists from Botswana, researchers from the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh andGlasgow noted that the fact that the Southern Masked Weaver birds displayed marked variations in their approach to nest building reveals that they may learn from experience. At this point, however, it is not clear whether they have the mental capacity to learn, or their improvement in skills can be attributed to repetition of a task. Researchers also pointed out that observing this behavior in one bird species does not imply that it would apply to all birds. One of the scientists taking part in the study, Dr. Patrick Walsh of Edinburgh University’s School of Biological Sciences, noted that if birds built their nests instinctively according to a genetic template, it would follow that all birds would build all their nests in the same way every time, but this has not been the case. Summing it up nicely, Dr. Walsh was reported as saying: “Even for birds, practice makes perfect.”

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Sigurgeir Bird Rare Museum in Iceland

Surrounded by volcanic landforms and wetlands, Lake Mývatn, located near the Krafla volcano in the north of Iceland, is home to a wide range of birdlife, particularly waterfowl. Its rich biodiversity and intriguing geology continues to attract biologists, naturalists, geologists and bird watchers from around the world. It was in these beautiful surroundings that Sigurgeir Stefánsson was raised, and his love for birds became evident. The results of his life-long interest in birds can be viewed in the fascinating Sigurgeirs Bird Museum where his collection of more than 300 birds, representing around 180 species, is displayed.
Sigurgeir Stefánsson was born and raised on the Ytri-Neslönd farm, and spent his youth exploring his surroundings and collecting birds’ eggs. Soon he had specimens of all the indigenous Icelandic birds’ eggs, which he used to create a small natural history museum. At the age of 14 years, Stefánsson was given a bird that had been preserved by the process of taxidermy. This was the beginning of his bird collection, and any dead birds he, or his friends and neighbors found, were taken to the taxidermist for preservation.
Stefánsson’s collection grew until it had taken over his family’s house. It was later moved to a nearby shack and continued to grow, with other bird-lovers showing an interest in his work. While focusing on creating a complete collection of the birds of Iceland, Stefánsson also communicated and traded with ornithologists in other parts of the world, and his collection includes some exotic birds. He was often consulted by visiting researchers, as he had an intimate knowledge of the area and its feathered residents. He had expressed the desire to build a museum to properly display his collection for others to enjoy, but had no funds to make his dream a reality.
Tragically, in 1999 during a storm Stefánsson and his two companions drowned in Lake Mývatn as they attempted to repair an underwater cable – he was only 37 years old. To honor his memory and his accomplishments in the field of ornithology, the Aurora Charity Fund, together with members of his family, established the Sigurgeirs Bird Museum, which opened on 17 August 2008. In addition to viewing the extensive collection of birds on display in the museum, visitors can make use of the binoculars provided to spot local birds in the surroundings and on the lake, which is known for having the most species of duck to be found in one location.

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