Answers . . . More Or Less

You know, I still don’t know.

Twan Leenders of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute identified my thing pretty quickly as an oriole nest. Photos he rapidly raised on the internet confirmed the shape and size.

In his hands, it opened to reveal the nest inside — twigs purposely arranged in perfect order. I even found an old photograph I’d taken of a nest in my pear orchard. It’s obviously the same.

And yet . . . the differences in my mind outweigh the practical similarities. I know . . . but I don’t.

Why, for starters, did my bird build her doorway on the side when every sensible oriole knows it has to be in the top — easy entrance and egress for the adult(s) and eventually those expected kids. No sense losing one or more after all that hard work. My nest wouldn’t even offer much snugness with all that traipsing in and out.

I happened at just this time to pick up an ad for a book about the intelligence of birds. Oh, sure — “bird brain” — and I certainly wouldn’t want to argue that most is instinct, however and wherever that developed. But some birds can store seed and find it at once when a later need arises. I doubt if one can attribute ingrown behavior to the fantastic variety of songs some display. Who teaches them to “talk”? This book further claims some birds may rival, in some forms of intelligence, animals and probably humans (you know who you are).

Neither here nor there in my particular case but the passage certainly got my brain power moseying along. If birds can vary in IQ then why not look for other differences? How about Artistic Quotient? It would be very, very difficult to convince me that I hadn’t found the work of a creative genius. Move over Michelangelo and Mendelssohn and meet Miss Oriole.

I enter into evidence a picture on the left of an oriole nest found in my pear orchard. The clumsy (pardon) forming of twigs is typical of any pictures I’ve seen, reference book or internet. It’s also very similar to those nests lining my attic steps: robin, jay, phoebe. The nest is constructed for a very specific purpose and, as long as it serves that, all’s well. We aren’t aiming for Architectural Digest. We just want a place to keep the kiddies warm and safe. Most nests aren’t built to last beyond that.

Listen to what Donald and Lillian Stokes have to say: “Usually just the female builds the nest. First a few long fibers are attached to the branch and looped underneath. After that, she brings other fibers one at a time and pushes them through one side, and then arbitrarily pulls fibers in from the other side. The actions are random and not indicative of any advanced weaving skills.

Same photo, right side. No twigs here for Miss O — except the two tiny ones to attach the nest at the top to the tree and one stronger one (which I’d missed) to serve as a stabilizer. “Rock-a-bye-baby” might prove soothing to some but better in this case to leave well enough alone.

And twigs? Hardly. As near as we can guess, that’s some kind of hair. Once with Twan and seeing where he found the nest’s entrance so well camouflaged that I’d missed it, it was an easy step to take a peek inside.

It’s dark.

I’m not surprised.

I like my pocket-sized camera but many of those earlier interior shots were out of focus or simply black. Even the flash didn’t particularly care to cooperate. But then —

So much happened so fast at the RTPI that I later remembered only there was an inside. Photos (just picked up) do most of my memory.

And what an inside it turns out to be! Parquet flooring? Not really but now one can see the twigs — lined up in a crosshatch pattern, so very smoothly. Very acceptable, I assure you, if we were a bird checking out a magnificently erected mansion.

But no signs of any occupancy. Ever. And a door sealed tight once she’d finished her work.

I’ve read since that winter is a good time to search trees for oriole (and other) nests for the leaves are gone. I’ve never found another but will look harder.

Grape jelly pleased my orioles in 2018. I’ll promise to keep it flowing in ’19.

As a curious (and final) aside: my noisy nasty freezer seems to have quieted down. No more tossing ice cubes helter-skelter. Think having to share it with the nest really upset it?


Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the illustrated Musings, her books and the author may be found at