Birds use barbed wire

In many cities around the world, anti-bird barbs are used. Their function is to protect statues, balconies and cornices from birds. Now, however, birds seem to be using this strategy to their advantage. Some birds use these barbs as weapons around their nests. That’s right: birds are now using barbed wire for building. It’s the latest nesting craze.

This shows amazing adaptability, claims biologist Auke-Florian Hiemstra. The fact that birds use man-made objects in their nests is not new. Many species around the world use everything from barbed wire to knitting needles. But now they seem to position the barbs outwards, to maximize protection.

Birds use barbed wire to protect their own nests.
Birds use barbed wire to protect their own nests.


Hiemstra’s research began in the courtyard of a hospital in Antwerp, Belgium. A huge magpie nest containing about 1,500 spikes was found. “For the first few minutes, I just stared at it. It was a strange, beautiful, weird nest,” he explains. The spines were pointing outward, creating a perfect armor around the nest.

A visit to the hospital roof confirmed it. About 50 meters of anti-ship spike strips had been torn from the building. All that remained were traces of glue.

A nest whose construction is unfinished is in the Rotterdam museum. And a larger, finished one is in the collection of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Hiemstra says more nests need to be found to confirm his theory. But everything suggests that the birds are using these spikes for protection. One important detail is how they are positioned. The spikes are on the roof of the nest, which maximizes protection.

This indicates remarkable adaptability to the environment. The glue used to attach the barbs to the buildings is strong and the barbs are not easily detached.

This pigeon built its the middle of barbed wire put up to scare it away.
This pigeon built its nest… in the middle of a barbed wire put up to scare it away.

Protected nests

There have been many cases where birds resolve the situation themselves. For example, the cockatoo that pulled the spikes out of a building near Sydney, Australia. Or the Parkdale pigeon in Melbourne, whose image went viral for building its nest on them.

“The birds are using barbed wire. They are employing the material we made to keep them away, to make a nest and raise more birds.”

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