Reverse Engineering a Bird’s Nest

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An excellent way to hone your kid’s observation skills is to take a good look at a bird’s nest. They are an intricate, beautiful work of art in nature, and almost always contain a surprise when you stop to take a second look. This nest engineering STEM project involves making observations, drawings, building and design.

A great time to look at a bird’s nest is once it is no longer active, therefore, the late fall and winter are most likely a safe bet for getting up close and personal. (Please be aware that in many places collecting or possessing bird nests is illegal due due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Always check with local experts before collecting nests!)

Challenge your children and students to not only observe the nest, but also sketch it. Then take things a step further…can they reverse engineer the nest and build their own?

The following is an outline for an extended bird nest study, from observations to engineering!

Observing the Nest

First take a walk outside. Maybe there is a nest near your house or other nearby structure that you have had an eye on for a while. You might have to go on a hike to find a nest.

Once you have found the perfect nest, take a good look. You might want to bring a magnifying glass along. What is the nest made of? Are the materials natural or made by humans? How was the nest put together? Is it a simple pile of moss, or an intricately woven basket of grass?


Sketch the Nest

Creating a drawing of something in nature is an activity appropriate for any age, kid to adult! When you sketch it, you will no doubt notice even more details! Try to be as accurate as possible in your drawing, paying attention to colors and shapes.

(Kids love to keep nature journals, and there are many on the market that are very kid friendly, like this one. If your kids and students love to draw in nature they’ll also love this template for sketching bird feathers too.)

Engineer a Nest

Now can you reverse engineer this nest and build your own? You don’t have to use the same materials, but you can. You can also scale it up or down. Can you build a nest big enough for a kid? You might consider the following materials for your nest: grass, reeds, mud, string, fabric, wire, pipe cleaners, clay, leaves, pine needles, etc.

Will you build your nest inside or outside? Maybe you will want to make a framework for your nest and then fill in the details. For an added challenge, try to balance your nest on a tree branch, or somewhere else off the ground.

How well does your nest withstand the elements, like rain or wind? You can test it out and make improvements as you go. No doubt you will find a new appreciation for birds and other nest builders in the process!

Love Nests?

You will want to learn more. Find a book on nests at your local library and investigate nests that you may not be able to find where you live.

If you are looking for a wonderful picture book about the nests of all sorts of animals, check out A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, with gorgeous illustrations by Sylvia Long.


My name is Sarah Benton Feitlinger and I am a science educator with over 10 years experience sharing science in nature and environmental centers, museums and schools. I have been studying science and nature in one way or another pretty much my whole life! I have a passion for making science understandable, and my goal is to make it accessible for everyone.

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