Books  Ornithology  Biology, Ecology & Behaviour 

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build

Art / PhotobookPopular ScienceOut of Print

By: Peter Goodfellow(Author)

160 pages, 300 colour photos and colour & b/w illustrations

The Ivy Press

Hardback | Mar 2013 | #204010 | ISBN-13: 9781908005847
Out of Print Details

About this book

Birds are the most consistently inventive builders, and their nests set the bar for functional design in nature. Avian Architecture describes how birds design, engineer, and build their nests, deconstructing all types of nests found around the world using architectural blueprints and detailed descriptions of the construction processes and engineering techniques birds use. This spectacularly illustrated book features 300 full-color images and more than 35 case studies that profile key species worldwide. Each chapter covers a different type of nest, from tunnel nests and mound nests to floating nests, hanging nests, woven nests, and even multiple-nest avian cities. Other kinds of avian construction – such as bowers and harvest wells – are also featured.

Avian Architecture includes intricate step-by-step sequences, visual spreads on nest-building materials and methods, and insightful commentary by a leading expert. It illustrates how birds around the world design, engineer, and build their nests. It features architectural blueprints, step-by-step sequences, visual spreads on nest-building materials and methods, and expert commentary. It includes 300 full-color images and covers more than 100 bird species worldwide.

"I’ve been waiting a long while for a book like Avian Architecture. I was not disappointed. It is nothing short of a revelation to discover not only the variety of structures that birds build, but also (especially) how they are constructed."
- Grant McCreary (30-06-2011), read the full review at The Birder's Library

"I live in a nice clapboard house and work in a gleaming steel-and-glass skyscraper, but after reading Avian Architecture I feel cheated. I'll never get to enjoy the comforts of the nest of a long-tailed tit."
- Henry Fountain, New York Times

"Goodfellow explores nest types and their design and construction. The text is excellent and the book is richly illustrated with drawings, photographs, and a selection of architectural blueprints for many nests. [...] [Goodfellow] sharpens the focus to explore nests only from the perspective of their architecture – their form, function, construction materials, how they are made, and by whom [...] We love finding nests but rarely pay attention to how they are built. Avian Architecture will magnify your sense of wonder. The book is chockablock full of detail presented in a very accessible way."
- Wayne Mones, Audubon Blog

"[Avian Architecture] is a compelling read. I couldn't put it down. Goodfellow organizes nests into general types: scrapes, holes, platforms, cups, woven nests and so on. He describes each nest type in great detail and illustrates the process with detailed artwork and photos."
- Scott Shalaway, West Virginia Gazette

"This has got to be one of the coolest bird books I've ever come across [...] Avian Architecture may unravel some of the mystery behind how birds make their nests, but Peter Goodfellow thoroughly reveals a complexity in nest building that makes birds all the more astounding [...] Trust me, you're [going to] want this!"
- Robert Mortenson, Birding Is Fun

"In a word, this book is 'magnificent'. Its 160 pages are loaded with the kind of photos and artwork that we've come to expect from Princeton University Press – exceptional [...] This book delivers 100% of what the title promises – the design, engineering, and building of birds' nests."

"Avian Architecture is a beautiful book with lots of pictures and illustrations of the many styles of nests birds build. In addition, there are interesting insights into birds around the world."
- A Charm of Finches

"A well-illustrated introduction into the nest building behavior of birds."
- Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report

"The illustrations are a rich combination of fine photographs and necessary graphics that can show structural cutaways and design elements no photo can reproduce. From the simple but elegantly hidden scrape nests to the large, unwieldy platform nests of some of our largest birds, this book gives you the how and where of the avian builder's method."
- Harry Fuller, A Towheeblog

"A must have book if you have ever wondered how birds are able to build such incredible nests. Peter Goodfellow has created a fascinating read combining "blueprint" drawings, with explanations, of each nest type as well as detailed drawings of the techniques and materials used by some specific species of birds."
- Birder's Report

"The drawings and text allow the author to give the reader a firm understanding of how various nests are made. The coverage goes from simple nests to more complex, sometimes communal nests [...] The book covers so much more: mound incubators that use the heat of composting material, platform nesters, colonial nesters and others. The text is easy to understand and can be shared with children. This book provides a great entry to the wonder of birds."
- Herb Wilson, Portland Press Herald

"Goodfellow provides blueprints for each nest type, a list of building materials, and case studies. All are illustrated with photographs and superb artwork, and explained in clear, concise text. Bird nests can be as fascinating as the bird itself. Avian Architecture makes that point clear [...] I read Avian Architecture cover to cover without putting it down."
- Jim Williams, Minneapolis Star Tribune


"One of the extraordinary features of avian evolution is the considerable range of nest types that have evolved. As egg-layers, birds need nests in which to incubate their eggs and, in many species, in which to care for their young. Some closely related species, such as Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita and Wood Warbler P. sibilatrix, build similar structures, in this case domed and constructed close to the ground. In other species, convergent evolution has resulted in similar nest strategies being used by unrelated species. An example of this is the use of mud as a protective element to partially close a nest hole in a tree, such as that as used by the Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea and hornbills Bucerotidae. Hornbills, however, take this strategy to extremes, with the female Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis being sealed into the nest hole for the entire nesting cycle, during which she not only incubates and then cares for the young, but also has a complete moult while she is incarcerated. All the while the female, and latterly the whole family, are completely dependent on the male for food.

Another extreme example of nesting behaviour is that of the Australian Brush-turkey Alectura lathami and the rather similar Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata, both of which build a large mound nest incorporating vegetation that heats up as it rots. Into this mound the eggs are laid, leaving the adults to control the temperature in the mound during incubation by the judicious addition to or removal of vegetation from the nest mound. This nesting behaviour has been quite well documented, but I was unaware that the young brush-turkeys hatch fully feathered – not just down-covered, as are wildfowl and waders – and are completely independent of their parents and able to fly within hours. Moreover, as with crocodiles Crocodylinae, the mound temperature determines the sex ratio of the young, which is equal with incubation temperature at about 34ºC, but above or below that temperature the sex ratio becomes unequal.

All this, and much, much more is described in this book, which classifies the many and varied nest types used by birds, from the simple scrape nests used by many waders, seabirds and wildfowl, to more sophisticated hole and tunnel structures (for example, kingfishers Alcedinidae, bee-eaters Meropidae and woodpeckers Picidae), platforms (many raptors Accipitridae and storks Ciconiidae), cup nests (many passerines), domed nests etc.

Niggles are few, and largely inconsequential: the spelling of ‘fiber’; dimensions sometimes being given as Imperial units then followed by metric, and sometimes vice-versa; the use of scientific names in parentheses as well as in italics, and the ‘velcro’ analogy applied to the spider-web and moss construction of the Long-tailed Tit’s Aegithalos caudatus nest, which is hardly the same as when velcro used as a fabric fastener! In some instances I would have liked a little more explanation. As a wader enthusiast I have always been intrigued by the Crab-plover’s Dromas ardeola communal, underground hole-nesting behaviour, which is mentioned here but not described. And as a geotechnical engineer I have long been itching to know more about the use of ‘mud’ as a nesting material, which I suspect can be classified more precisely than just ‘mud’, and indeed probably needs fairly precise properties to enable it to be used by birds. One clue to this is the fact that a number of swallows and martins Hirundinidae and even the Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca all use a vibrating technique when they place the mud. This implies that the clay mineral content of the mud is in fact quite low. Other questions are: do these species incorporate their saliva as a hardening agent – as used in an extreme form by the swiftlets Aerodramus of southeast Asia (these nests then forming the main ingredient for ‘birds-nest soup’)? And can the strengthening effect of fibres and other fragments added to the mud (as is done by the Magpie-lark, for example) be quantified? Although this book is largely concerned with nests and nest building, it also includes discussion of the bower construction by the bower-birds Ptilonorhynchidae, the acorn stores of Acorn Woodpeckers Melanerpes formicivorus, and the methods used by sapsuckers Sphyrapicus to harvest sap and insects.

This book is attractively designed and well-illustrated with photographs and line drawings. About 14 different nest types and their construction are described, with ‘blueprints’ giving annotated line drawings of the different types, and ‘case studies’ in which a variety the nests of a number of species are described. Though I claim no particular expertise in the subject of bird’s nests, the book appears to be comprehensive. It is a fascinating to browse, and while not everyone will want to read it from cover to cover it is a thoroughly useful addition to any ornithological library."

- Richard Chandler,, 24-09-2013

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