Question: I found this strange structure in a tree. It is made entirely of wire and scrap metal, but it looks more like a bird’s nest than anything of human creation. What is it?
A strange metal structure found in a tree.
Photographer/Source: Jill Moonie
Answer: The structure you found in a tree is indeed a wire nest. The Collection Manager of Ornithology at Museum Victoria has identified it as a nest belonging to an Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen.
Like other birds, Australian Magpies usually construct their nests from naturally-occurring materials such as twigs, sticks and grasses. However, Australian Magpies will occasionally build their nests from metallic materials.
Wire nest made by an Australian Magpie
Photographer/Source: John Murray
Metal materials found in Magpie nests include wire, mesh, coat hangers and bicycle spokes. Australian Magpies have also been known to incorporate non-wire human-made materials in their nests such as fishing line, plastic, paper, rope and jewellery.
Australian Magpie wire nests are not particularly rare; Museum Victoria’s Collection Manager is aware of the existence of at least twelve examples across the country spanning a period of approximately 100 years.
The choice of wire for nest-building may not be a deliberate one; magpies may collect pieces of wire because they resemble twigs and sticks. However, Magpies are intelligent birds – perhaps they selectively choose wire because it is the strongest material they can find.
Whatever a Magpie uses to construct the structural part of its nest, it always lines the inside with soft leaves to protect and cushion the eggs – this would be particularly important in nest made of wire!
While Australian Magpies can be considered infamous for their unusual choice of nest-building materials, they are also well-known for their intelligence, their melodious voice, and particularly for their aggression during the breeding season. As they are highly territorial birds, Australian magpies will defend their nests from other magpies, and often from people, by “swooping”.
The Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen
Photographer: Gary Lewis, Source: Gary Lewis Photography Pty. Ltd.
The Australian Magpie is found throughout all states of Australia. It was named by English settlers after the European Magpie because both birds are black and white, although they are not closely related.