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Nature & You: Did wild bird homes inspire ancient pottery-makers?

Cliff swallows have a knack of building their mud domains securely against the smooth surface of a concrete underpass. [PHOTO BY KEN THOMAS]

Cliff swallows have a knack of building their mud domains securely against the smooth surface of a concrete underpass. [PHOTO BY KEN THOMAS]

Did wild bird homes inspire ancient pottery-makers?

Each and every week, I admonish you to get up off the couch in order to venture outdoors for a nature hike. This time, however, I am going to do something a bit different.

You'll need to be inside your car, truck or minivan for this exercise. When you drive down almost any major roadway, pay particular attention to the highway overpasses. For gosh sakes, keep attentive to the road ahead, but you can surely spare a snippet of time for some rubbernecking of the structure above your vehicle's windshield.

Be on the lookout for mud nests that have been built by wild birds. If you should, per chance, come upon them, they will be hard to miss because there will be a whole slug of them in one location. You'll want to find the mud nests of the cliff swallows. The undersides of highway overpass bridges function quite nicely (thank you very much!) as a man-made substitute for rocky cliff faces.

The cliff swallow nests are unique examples of avian architecture. Each nest resembles an earthen jug.

That, in and of itself, is quite a sight to see. However, I cannot help but marvel at the astonishing fact that these wild birds build these nests on a smooth, vertical surface. One has to wonder what Old Mr. Gravity has to say about this incomprehensible act. What kind of glue-substitute do you suppose something so simple as mud is sufficient to perform? It will make you scratch your head in awe.

Then there is the "what-came-first? ... the chicken? ... the egg?" question. Did ancient people draw inspiration from the earthen vessels that were fashioned by these feather-covered bird brains? Well, yeah, probably. But still, the birds transport the pottery material there in their mouths. That makes the swallows even more accomplished potters than any human copycat.

Ain't Ma Nature grand?

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

Neil Garrison

Neil Garrison is an outdoor nature enthusiast. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University/Stillwater; he earned a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology. Prior to his 2009 retirement, he was the Naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center for 30... Read more ›

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