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Spider Silk - Duct Tape for Bird Nests

A flexible, resilient material for construction and repair
© Andy Teucher View Large

The spider’s web is an intricate piece of precision engineering. Made from large proteins, it’s sticky, stretchy, and tough. So it’s no surprise that many small birds — including this Anna’s Hummingbird — make a point of collecting strands of spider silk to use in nest construction. Spider silk not only acts as a glue, holding the nest together, but it’s flexible enough to accommodate the growing bodies of nestlings. And it’s resilient enough to withstand the bustle of raising those hungry babies.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Spider Silk and Bird Nests
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

A spider’s web is an intricate piece of precision engineering. And the spider silk it’s constructed with is amazing. Made from large proteins, it’s sticky, stretchy, and tough. So it’s no surprise that many small birds make a point of collecting strands of spider silk to use in nest construction – birds like hummingbirds, kinglets, gnatcatchers, and some vireos.

[Golden-crowned Kinglet song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/197096, 0.15-.19]  

Golden-crowned Kinglets, among the smallest of songbirds, build a tiny, square nest. They often use strands of spider silk to suspend the structure from adjoining twigs, like a tiny hammock.  

[Ruby-throated Hummingbird squeaks, wing hum, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/176299, 0.13-.16]  

When a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird is building her nest, she collects the spider silk she needs by sticking it all over her beak and breast. When she reaches the nest site, she’ll press and stretch the silk onto the other materials – such as lichen and moss – creating a tough, tiny cup. Spider silk not only acts as a glue, holding the other bits together, but it’s flexible enough to accommodate the growing bodies of nestlings. And it’s resilient enough to withstand all the bustle of raising those hungry babies.

 [Ruby-throated Hummingbird squeaks, wing hum, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/176299, 0.13-.16]

Where we might reach for duct tape, these birds turn to spider silk.

For BirdNote I’m Michael Stein.

 ###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Golden-crowned Kinglet [197096] recorded by Bob McGuire; Ruby-throated Hummingbird [176299] recorded by G A Keller.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org   April 2016    Narrator: Michael Stein
ID#  nest-07-2016-04-08                   nest-07
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2658765/

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