Strange metal structure found in a tree

19 October, 2008

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?

Wire nest made by an Australian Magpie

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

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

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.

Comments (4)

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Frank Scott 1 March, 2011 18:22
Thanks - recently found one at Alstonville NSW, 2011. Thought I had my 'wires crossed' initially, but realised it had to be a bird. Maggie crossed my mind but I wondered what they might have done pre 1788?
Marion Smith 7 August, 2011 12:00
I work at a Kindergarten in an urban bushland setting in the outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We have recently been visited by magpies searching for nesting materials. The favourite is fur from the orange mane of on of our unicorn hobby horses. They also like to pull the stuffing out of our dress-up dinosaur tales.
bobby 5 November, 2013 20:09
as a golfer we often "lost" our golf balls on a particular hole when they were hit dead straight. our suspicions were confirmed when a tree either fell or was felled and a nest containing several golf balls was discovered .This was confirmed by several golfers and apparently was not the only time it had occurred. Hoarders are magpies are they not? WE now live in a magpie haven , on a few acres near a big orchard. the local population is well over 60 a. Last year we endured a season of swooping and three months of not being able to step outside without a big stick. this year we have been adopted by a family of 5 who love out lawns and now have taken to queuing up for a morning and evening feed of muesli or worms!
Ladina 10 July, 2015 10:52
I thought is was strange thing to see a magpie flying up into a tree with a coat hanger. Until I read your article. This magpie was on shared bike path going from Wishart to Eight Mile Plains in Brisbane.
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