Category Archives: Go Green

The Biggest Misconception About Birds. Where do birds sleep?

52176f5948168bbefcb98010ff5e71baWhen I talk to people about birds, one misunderstanding comes up again and again, one thing that everyone seems to get wrong. Not dumb people, either. Dumb people get a lot of things wrong. These people think of themselves as smart people, and by and large, they are. Th2c2fc5a6a030ed8830cfad2c3efcbfbcey’re just not bird people.

What is this avian misconception? I hope you’re sitting down because here it is: Birds don’t sleep in their nests.

They don’t. The mental image is a cute one—a little bird, tuckered out after an early morning of worm-getting, peeling back a tiny leaf blanket in its cozy little nest—but it’s just not the case. Nests (for birds that even make nests—many of them don’t) are for keeping eggs and chicks in place. When nesting season is over, nests are a mess—splattered in the droppings of the fledglings and, in some cases, a dead chick. These messes can attract parasites and predators, and birds just don’t need the nests anymore.

So where do birds sleep? Lots of places. When birds settle down to sleep, it’s called “roosting,” and the main things they’re looking for are safety and warmth. Songbirds have to keep off the ground to avoid cats and things, and out of the open to avoid owls. Dense brush or foliage does fine. Bigger birds have more options and can sleep on the water, on a branch, or even just right on the ground.

Few roosts are completely safe, though, so some birds have developed the ability to literally sleep with one eye open. The eyes of most birds (unlike in humabird001ns) send information to only one side of the mind. Unihemispheric slow-wave sleep allows birds to slide one hemisphere of their mind into a deep sleep while leaving the other hemisphere awake and alert. Birds can turn USWS on and off depending on how safe their roost is: For example, when a large flock of ducks is roosting on an open lake, the birds in the safety of the center of the flock may shut down completely, while the more vulnerable birds at the edge of the flock may enter USWS to stay alert. What’s more, scientists suspect that some birds use USWS to sleep while in flight.

OK, so birds don’t sleep in their nests. Let’s get more specific than that. There are a lot of different kinds of birds, and they roost in different ways. So you’ll be able to really dazzle ‘em at your next cocktail party, here’s how a bunch of different families of birds really do prefer to roost.

Geese and ducks. A coyote would love nothing more than to run up on a big, fat, delicious, sleeping goose. Their bigness and fatness, along with their webbed feet, make it impossible for waterfowl to sleep in the safety of a tree.

Gorgeous Rembrandt-Inspired Portraits of Women With Unusual Animals

Gorgeous Rembrandt-Inspired Portraits of Women With Unusual Animals

Most of the time, geese and ducks sleep at night right on the water. Eagles and hawks aren’t a threat because they also sleep during the night, and any predator swimming after the birds would send vibrations through the water, waking them up. Small islands work, too. Waterfowl also sleep on the shore, usually standing on one leg (tucking the other one up into the warmth of its feathers).

Baby Hawk

Baby Hawk

Herons and egrets. These big wading birds really have only equally large predators to worry about: alligators and eagles. Sometimes herons and egrets roost in the shallows, relying on vibrations in the water to warn them of reptiles, but they’re most often seen roosting in large flocks in waterside trees.

Shorebirds. Spending most of their time out on open beaches, birds like sandpipers and plovers are vulnerable to dive-bombing raptors even when they’re awake. Not being equipped to sit in trees or float on the water, sleeping is an even more dangerous proposition. Shorebirds simply do the best they can, roosting on open beaches in large flocks (to help raise alarm) and almost certainly using USWS to keep alert.

Hawks, eagles, and owls. You know that old joke about where the 800-pound gorilla can sit? Well hawks and eagles follow the same rule: anywhere they want to. ab84d3502acc3c58cbfe418f6024a601Big raptors don’t have to worry about predators so long as they’re off the ground, so they’ll usually just find a tree branch somewhere. Owls also sleep in trees, usually during the day, either in dense foliage (to keep the light out) or, for certain species, in tree cavities.9ca11edc69c5190774c98ff4842ec931

Grouse and quail. Sleep is perhaps most dangerous for these guys—all fat and juicy and, typically, with a poor ability to fly. Everything eats them. They sleep in the safest places they can find and use USWS and camouflage in their defense. Birds that live where there are trees, like spruce or ruffed grouse, will fly up and sleep on tree branches. Where there aren’t trees but only smaller vegetation, birds like willow ptarmigan will sleep in the vegetation. Where there’s nothing at all, no trees or bushes, say, and the land is covered in snow, birds like white-tailed ptarmigan will trust in their all-white plumage and nestle down right there in a snowy hillside.

Woodpeckers. Most woodpeckers roost in tree cavities, either ones they’ve used as nest holes or sometimes ones they’ve chiseled out just for sleeping. Lots of birds roost in tree cavities, or really any hole or covered area, for that matter. Humans have helped, creating lots of protected nooks under roofs, bridges, barns, and ledges.

Crows, swallows, swifts, starlings. These birds aren’t closely related, but they share some incredible communal roosting behaviors. Some species, for social or safety reasons or for warmth, choose to sleep together—sometimes in gigantic flocks. The spectacle of these flocks gathering at dusk is amazing to some people, eerie to others, but impossible to look away from. Check out these videos of hundreds of crows in Maryland, thousands and thousands of tree swallows in Florida, these chimney swifts wheeling into a middle school in Wisconsin.

Pretty much everything else. The bulk of the remaining birds—more than half of all bird species—are perching birds from the order Passeriformes. Classic bird-birds: sparrows, warblers, cardinals, jays, buntings, etc. For the most part, all these perching birds use dense vegetation—bushes, hedges, trees—to sleep. They just fly in at dusk, grab hold of an appropriately-sized twig, and conk out.

How do perching birds stay perched on their perch while they’re asleep, you might ask? Evolution, of course. Passerines have developed “flexor tendons” in their legs that involuntarily clasp shut when a bird squats on a perch. The tendons won’t relax until a bird straightens its leg, so a bird physically can’t leave until it’s ready. The grip is so tight that some birds, like this hummingbird, have been seen sleeping upside down. Looks plenty comfortable to me, and no nest required.


WarkaWater + Africa = Fresh Water


Only 34 percent of Ethiopians have access to a reliable water supply. The vast majority travels up to six hours a day to fetch some or, worse, resorts to using stagnant ponds contaminated by human waste, resulting in the spread of disease.

Worldwide, a whopping 768 million people — two and a half times the U.S. population — don’t have access to safe drinking water. So just imagine if we could just pull water out of thin air?

WarkaWater looks like it belongs in a modern art museum but actually serves to harvest water from the air.

That’s what Vittori and Vogler asked once they saw the magnitude of problem and vowed to take action. Their firm, Architecture and Vision, has since come up with WarkaWater, a majestic palm-like structure that may look like something you’d see in a modern art museum but it’s been designed to harvest water from the air.

WarkaWater, which is named after an Ethiopian fig tree, is composed of a 30-foot bamboo frame containing a fog-harvesting nylon net that can be easily lowered for repairs and to allow communities to measure the water level.

Collecting water through condensation is hardly a new technique, but the creators of WarkaWater say their tree-inspired design is more effective, maximizing surface and optimizing every angle to produce up to 26 gallons of drinkable water a day — enough for a family of seven.

Only 34 percent of Ethiopians have access to a reliable water supply.

Western NGOs have been working to provide clean water access in Africa for decades, so WarkaWater joins a very long list of earlier attempts. So far, high-tech solutions, like the once-promising Playpump (a hybrid merry-go-round water pump), have failed, mostly due to high costs and maintenance issues.

This is where WarkaWater stands apart — as a lower-tech solution that is easy to repair and far more affordable than digging wells in the rocky Ethiopian plateau.

Each water tower costs $550 — a Playpump is $14,000 — and its creators say the price will drop significantly if they start mass-producing it. The structure takes three days and six people to install and doesn’t call for any special machinery or scaffolding.

“Once locals have the necessary know-how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the WarkaWater towers,” says Vittori, who is already working on WarkaWater 2.0, an upgraded version that may include solar panels and LED bulbs to provide light after dark.

The firm is in the process of raising funds to begin installing towers in Ethiopia next year. And WarkaWater could also prove useful in other areas, like deserts, which have the critical feature for collecting condensation: a dramatic change in temperature between nightfall and daybreak.

This elegant invention may not solve all of the world’s water woes, but it could improve accessibility one drop at a time.

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