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Julie Craves explains orioles’ nest-building know-how

A Baltimore Oriole perches beside its sock-like nest in a tree in Woodstock, Connecticut. Photo by Ben Harris (Creative Commons)

In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our April 2014 issue:

I’m amazed by oriole nests. Is the ability to weave a nest instinctive or learned? — Anita Cole, Roanoke, Virginia

North America’s orioles and their close relatives build intricate nests. Baltimore Oriole, for example, weaves a sock-like nest that hangs from tree branches. A lot goes into a successful oriole nest, including the choice of appropriate plant (and sometimes man-made) materials, secure attachment to branches, and careful weaving to create a strong structure.

Studies I found on birds that construct elaborate nests indicate that each species has an instinctive set of standardized nest-building methods. Many birds, however, vary aspects of their nest construction, such as the direction in which they weave materials. They apparently adapt their innate techniques to the grasses and other structural components they have at hand, the kind and shape of branch they are attaching the nest to, and so on. Birds become more efficient with experience, and the nests of experienced birds are often neater and better built. Practice makes perfect!

About Julie Craves

Contributing Editor Jule Craves.
Contributing Editor Jule Craves.

Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.

Read other questions that Julie has answered in “Since You Asked.”

If you have a question about birds for Julie, send it to or visit our Contact pageA version of this article was published in the April 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.

Originally Published

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