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Nature’s Weavers

by Nancy Nickolson, Family Programs Coordinator, and Corey Scobie, Assistant Curator of Ornithology 

July 6, 2020

Weavers have been making cloth for thousands of years, but birds have been weaving nests for much longer. If you look out your window, you might see a bird collecting supplies for their home. Amazingly, birds are quite resourceful, using all sorts of materials you wouldn’t expect.

In the Collection

A single Baltimore oriole bird sitting on a branch surrounded by many branches of a spruce tree. The bird is six to eight inches (15-20 cm) in length. The bird has a white, pointed beak, a black head, and a bright orange body. The wings are black and white striped. The tail is black with orange feathers.

Say hello to the Baltimore oriole!

Baltimore orioles are a migratory blackbird found predominately in the Aspen Parkland ecoregion in Alberta. This bird is a true weaver of many materials. It is known for building unique hanging nests. 

The nests in our collection show how this type of bird uses whatever is around to build their home. One bird; three very different nests! Let’s have a look:

A 6-8 inch white coloured nest, sitting in a white box. The cup-shaped nest is laying on its side. The right side is attached to two branches, and is surrounded by dried leaves.

String!
This bird wound string around the surrounding branches to support the hanging cup of the nest.

Found in Round Hill, AB.

 

A nest made of dark brown hair. A white museum tag is attached in the middle.

Horse Hair!
Baltimore orioles build “hanging” nests, like this one made of horse hair.

Found in Glory Hills, AB.

 

A nest made of fishing line in a white box, off-white in colour, with several finishing hooks woven in. The nest is laying down, with the top of the cup facing left. A couple of small sticks are intertwined with the fishing line.

Fishing Line!
If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the fish hooks still attached to the lines! The inside of this nest would have been lined with fine and soft material, so the birds likely wouldn’t have gotten poked by the hooks. Before the nest was collected, all the natural material inside the nest decomposed or fell out.

Found in Calgary, AB.


How to: Weave like a bird

Be inspired by our feathered friends! Learn how to make a simple loom and weave using found materials from in and around your home.

A square piece of cardboard, wooden ruler, pencil, metal scissors, silver paperclip, sewing needle, ball of yarn, and fork sit on a white background.

Difficulty: Medium

Time: Varies, depending on size of loom and materials being woven

What you’ll need:

  • cardboard
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • large blunt needle or paperclip
  • yarn or string
  • fork
  • found objects


1. Imagine you are a bird! Search in and around your home for objects that can be woven. How about long grass, feathers, sticks, twist ties, string, fabric scraps, and elastic bands?! You could also add buttons and beads to add some shine!
 

Twigs, a bird feather, a piece of light-yellow fabric, mason jar filled with buttons, string, and yellow grass sit on a white background.


2. Raid your recycling bin for some cardboard. Your weaving will be the size of your piece of cardboard. Using the ruler and pencil, mark the cardboard every ½ inch on the top and bottom. Use your scissors to cut a ½ inch (1 cm) slit on each mark.
 

A hand holds scissors, cutting small notches into a piece of cardboard. The cardboard has pencil marks to show where to cut. A ruler and pencil sit in the background.


3. To create the vertical lines of your weaving (weavers call this the warp), use your yarn to wrap your loom. Start on one corner, inserting the yarn in the first notch (leaving about 6 inches (15 cm) at the back). Follow the yarn across to the notch across from the first. Wrap around the back, insert the yarn into the second notch. Continue wrapping the cardboard until all the notches have been used. On the last notch, leave another 6 inches (15 cm) at the back. Tape or tuck these ends in so they are out of the way while you work. 
 

A piece of cardboard has 17 strings of yarn weaved vertically across and tucked into notches at the top and bottom. A ball of yarn and metal pair of scissors sits to the left.


4. Start weaving! Each string or piece of material should be woven over and under each string, going from side to side. Use your hands, a needle, or even a paper clip to help guide the material. If you have objects that are a bit harder to weave with, you can put those in first, and then fill in the gaps with smaller, more flexible materials. Remember not to weave too tightly; this will warp your weaving. 

 

A piece of cardboard with yarn strung across it. Tucked beneath the yarn are a variety of items including twigs, fabric, yarn, lace, twine, and a silver feather.

5. When you started and end with your piece of yarn, remember to tie a knot to secure it. You might also want to either trim or tuck the ends in. A fork is a useful tool to even out rows as you are working.
 

The same piece of cardboard with yarn strung across it and items tucked beneath the yarn. A hand holds a fork, pushing on the items under the yarn.


6. When you have filled your loom, carefully cut the yarn at the back, in the middle of each piece. 
 

A hand holds the cardboard, while another hand uses metal scissors to cut through pieces of yarn that is strung across the reverse side of the cardboard.

7. Then tie the ends together in any way you like. You can add knots, braids, and even beads.
 

The woven yarn and items are separated from the cardboard now. Two hands tie end pieces of the yarn into braids.


8. Enjoy your woven creation! 

The woven yarn and items are hanging against a white background

an image of a mammoth
i no fit :'(