Lichen: Camouflage for Bird Nests

Now that, in mid-November,…

the flowers are finished blooming…

very few insects remain active..

the leaves have mostly fallen…

the Fall bird migration is nearly over…

I am giving increased attention to observing tree trunks, as well as fallen branches, to become more familiar with the fungi, the mosses, and the lichen that can be found here.

Part of my interest in lichen comes from the fact that two of the smallest birds that breed in Eliza Howell Park use lichen to “decorate” the outside of their nests.

Several pairs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers nest in the park every year and it is an annual pleasure to watch them build.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Gnatcatchers attach lichen flakes to the outside surface of their cuplike structure, apparently secured by spider webs that they also collect. The lichen serves as camouflage, giving the nest an appearance similar to the limb on which it is built.

Tbis picture is of a low nest that I was able to approach last year when the birds were absent. Note the lichen on the nest and on the tree.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds nest in smaller numbers in the park and I am seldom able to locate their nests. The nests are tiny and made even more difficult to find by the lichen camouflage.

This nest is the only EHP one that has been photographed, to the best of my knowledge.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Weber.

Other bird species also use lichen in nest construction, but these two are the only ones of the Eliza Howell nesters that use it so extensely on the nest exterior.

—–

Lichen is, of course, so much more than nesting material for birds, but this is part of the story and is one of the first things I think of whenever I see lichen

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