April 22, 2013

City Nest, Country Nest, and Earth Day.

I photographed this nest during a visit to the city (Minneapolis area) some time ago.
It was in an ornamental tree planted in a parking lot median.  The nest was built with shreds of plastic woven in.  Looking around us, at how much pavement & concrete and how little vegetation there was, Johnathan (just turned 8 at the time) felt so sorry for the city birds. 
I had seen delicate hummingbird nests made of our horse's silver tail hairs growing up, but this was the first nest I've ever seen made with bits of man-made debris & litter.  It was an image, maybe overlooked by most, that had an impact on me.

This nest was photographed in our yard one frosty morning in February.

I couldn't help but note the similarity / differences.

Each spring, usually around Earth Day, our family cleans up the road we live on, end to end.  Litter is not just a city problem, but a universal one.  Some would say our area is near pristine compared to most.. but still, our quiet country road gets garbage tossed out on it every year.
Some years are worse than others, but I feel overall that we've seen a good improvement.
Currently the ditches are still buried in high snow banks.. but as soon as they melt away, we'll be out with our gloves & our trash bags to clean up what's hiding beneath them.

As I said in a past Earth Day clean-up post, I'm proud of our kids for caring & keeping the land clean. They really get into the clean-up effort & do a thorough job. But it is my hope that some day small children & residents won't have to pick up trash from their surroundings dumped by careless others.
It is my hope that birds won't build nests for their young out of plastic waste, as well.

I also shared in that post how I reported a compulsive litter bug on our road and it made a difference.
To this day, two years later, I haven't seen those items that were strewn along our road weekly before that.   
How do you handle your trash?  What do you do when you see someone else littering?

I dream of a clean earth for our birds, and our children, Earth Day & every day. 
The hands of Johnathan, 8 years old, with barn swallow nestling.
North Dakota, 2011. 

*Update:  I've received wonderful comments on this post, as well as my post on Dandelion Tolerance.
One commenter mentioned that they set yarn out for the birds to use in their nests.  While I haven't seen a nest with yarn in it's construction, it reminded me somewhere in the back of my mind that I've heard of this.  
It bums me out that we humans continue to pave over wildlife habitat so greedily, but I do think it's a sweet idea if you live somewhere where there is not enough natural material for birds to use for their nesting, to offer a sort of "fiber cache."  One method is to fill a suet feeder with cotton fabric strips, yarn, or wool, all of which are safe for birds to use.   Much more charming than nasty plastic debris.
I found more information at the Humane Society on what birds need for nesting and how you can help. 


  1. That Barn Swallow is a nice looking picture. We have a different species of swallow down here - its called the Welcome Swallow - which has to be one of my favourite names for a bird!

    Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. That's a lovely name, Stewart!
      This little swallow's nest had fallen from a barn overhang. Johnathan was in rescue mode.

  2. Beautiful post. I live in the city and the birds collect whatever they can find to build their nests. I even put out the ends of yarn left from my projects for them to use. Happy Earth Day.

  3. I like the way you think! Growing up our 4-H Club picked up 2 miles of road ditch twice a year. The first year was horrible. The amount of trash and what we found was unbelievable.

    The last picture is my favorite, love the B&W.

  4. A beautiful post. Love the image of Johnathan with the barn swallow. We have a compulsive litter bug...the trash men. They are so careless when collecting the trash they just dump it haphazzardly into the truck, often times just leaving what falls out onto the ground. So frustrating.

  5. Interesting how the urban birds and animals adapt to their surroundings, sad though as well that they have to use other peoples rubbish....Visiting from Tuesday Muse

  6. What an ugly yet thoughtful and sad comparison. As to recent posts I've now discovered I'm dandelion tolerant. For forty some years I've avoided the use of herbicides. Surrounded by corn and soybean field and a retired farmer guy who keep his acre lawn totally free of dandelions. I feel like I'm tilting at windmills but the struggle goes on....

  7. I don't think I've seen a nest quite like the city nest you pictured. I'm constantly amazed at how much trash we can carry out from a hike in the mountains. It's hard to believe people can be so thoughtless.

  8. I sometimes put out pieces of yarn for the birds to build with. Love your little swallow -- so sweet. xo

  9. Wow, that first photo is gripping. I do feel sad for the city birds as well. When we lived in the city we lived on a busy street and always had trash in our yard. I was so happy when we moved to the country because I figured we would be done with the littering issue. I was shocked to find out people throw trash all along our county road. I will never understand why people throw trash out their car windows and it makes me so angry!

  10. How sweet is the photo...love the back and white ;)

  11. Very cute little barn swallow.

  12. One person, years ago, decided to clean up our state and started KESAB (Keep South Australia Beautiful). He started by organising a volunteer yearly clean-up of road verges, including major highways. It took some time but now thousands of people participate and we are the only state that has 10c deposits on drink bottles,cans and cartons. If someone tosses them out on in the bins on the street, pensioners and vagrants go around picking them up or fishing them out to supplement their income. We also have to pay 10c for plastic bags at the supermarket. In consequence, most people bring their own bags or use supermarket packing boxes that are recyclable.

  13. A beautiful post with wonderful suggestions.
    So glad to see an Earth Day post. I didn't see as many this year as I anticipated.
    Love the idea of filling a suet feeder. I happen to have an extra one too. That would be fun to watch as well.

  14. Putting yarn out is a great idea as long as it is pure cotton or wool. Synthetic fibres don't break down also synthetic dyes are poisonous. I have seen nests here with pieces of bale twin and even bits of fine wire in them.
    Thank you for following, I too fell we are kindred spirits, though with rather a large age difference. Living with the land gives a heart link through the earth.

  15. I love your photos and the cute baby swallow. A great Earth Day post! Have a happy day!

  16. Such hardy souls those urban birds. Thanks for sharing those great tips on how to offer nesting stuff for them!

  17. Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  18. Beautiful! Love the baby swallow photo. Such a sweet image, almost look innocent, although not sure if that word can also be applied to birds.

  19. What a lovely post. I really like the look and feel of your blog, Amanda!

  20. A beautiful post. I love the last shot.

  21. It's true that litter is not just a city problem. Litter is everywhere. I love your bird nest photos.

  22. We live rather too much away from any large cities for some of these issues. Makes me appreciate even more the rural and spacious nature of most of our country. Like the birds, I'm not so comfy in the city.

  23. We have a nest right outside my dining room window that has a huge piece of plastic hanging out of it. They built it last year and I'm leaving it there to see if they come back and use it again this year. It's ugly, but there's enough real nest building material around here that I figure they must have liked it? Hopefully your snow is melting now. It's been a tough spring, but I think it's finally here in Ohio.

  24. We put out our dryer "fluff" for the birds - it goes faster than even white string or yarn. For some reason our birds are attracted to white when it comes to yarn. Guess that might be why that little bird in the city made plastics part of the nest - at least they had a nest, to raise baby birds in perhaps a cleaner environment as we clean it up ourselves.