As spring approaches it’s tempting to tackle the cobwebs that have knotted up the corners of the greenhouse, but I like to leave them for the long-tailed tits.
These beautiful little birds weave a soft, delicate nest out of lichen, moss or sheep’s wool and then almost stitch it together with sticky cobwebs so that the nests can expand as their chicks grow.
Long-tailed tits are one of Britain’s earliest nest builders - I have seen them begin in the first week of February whilst there is still snow on the ground -but this early start can lead to problems because there is no leaf cover to hide behind at this time and it’s not unusual to find their elaborate nests ripped apart by corvids – especially magpies.
After watching a pair of adult birds build a nest using cobwebs collected from my greenhouse I painted the picture below.
The ways in which different species build their nests is so fascinating I have made it the subject of a new exhibition which opens tomorrow here at my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire.
I have secreted 12 nest cams into nesting sites hidden all over my garden so that visitors can watch live as birds build their nests.
Already a tawny owl has laid two eggs for Easter and is now busy incubating them. It was incredible to watch as the female dug a nest scrape shortly before hand and the camera captured the male and female preening one another's faces affectionately.
The cameras also show the action in a barn owl nest box and a tree sparrow, which is busily creating a hollow cup shape out of lichen and moss using just its beak. The tree sparrow will go on to build it up into a tall domed structure, which could become a problem if the dome obscures the camera.
There are no shortage of tree sparrows here at Thixendale. When I moved here 17 years ago there was just one nesting in the roof of the house, now there are over 30 pairs. They have even taken over house martin boxes and once nested in a pair of old walking boots I put out for robins.
One camera shows a pernickity blue tit which cannot decide which nest box to choose and I've been watching it dive in and out of several, spreading out its wings as if trying it for size.
And this week a new pair of robins have begun nesting in a storm lamp I hung over the back porch, so I hope to link a new camera to this site so that visitors can watch the robin as it constructs a cup shape out of the dried leaves it has been collecting.
I like to put out attractive objects for the birds to nest in as they make wonderful props and backdrops for my paintings. Last year I also persuaded some swallows to nest in this storm lamp.
This is now the second pair of robins I have in the garden, which is very unusual for such a territorial bird. The other pair seem to have made the front garden their territory where they continue to persist in trying to build a nest in the back of my Landcruiser.
I'm taking the fact there are now two pairs here as a personal compliment for all the hard work I have put in to planting up what was once a bare hillside. Over the years I've planted a small woodland, a wildflower meadow and a great number of shrubs and bushes to attract the birds. Clearly the food supply is now plentiful enough to support more than one pair of robins.
If you are in North Yorkshire this month don't miss the chance to visit the exhibition. There will be paintings and photographs of different species on the nest and plenty of real nests for families to see and learn how to identify.
The exhibition runs until April 26th and is open daily. http://www.robertefuller.com/acatalog/EVENTS.html