Outreach – Edinburgh International Science Festival

At this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival visitors has their eyes opened to the world of nest building! Lauren, Sophie, and Alexis set up an exhibit on ‘Why Do Birds Build Nests?’, inviting both children and adults to try out their own nest building abilities by creating a nest sturdy enough to hold a chocolate egg! Not only that, but various nests (built by the birds, not the visitors) were on display for all to see and touch for a real hands-on experience of nest building. Attendees were also encouraged to test their bird-based knowledge by matching up birds and nests to their environment in Scotland. All the while, footage of nest building by our zebra finches in the lab and of wild weaver birds in the field (South Africa) were running for the viewing pleasure of the hundreds of people who stopped by.

Many thanks to the BBSRC for funding to deliver this event.

Well done team!

Dundee Science Festival

If you went to the Dundee Science Festival you might have caught up with some of the Healy lab! Lauren, Sue, Eira, Alexis, and Sophie spent the day talking and interacting with members of the public, using hand-on activities relating to nest building. The Healy lab exhibit, called ‘Why do bird build nests’ also included some video footage of wild weaver birds, and zebra finches in the lab, and it seemed like great fun was had all round! Find out some more about the day’s activities here.

Papers published – on a roll!

The Healy lab has been busy over the last few weeks, with several papers being published.

Lauren and Sue have published a paper focusing on nest building, the forgotten behaviour (with a couple of cheeky snaps from the paper above).


Next up, Ida has had two papers accepted: The first on whether taste affects nectar consumption in sunbirds, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. The second is on observations on nest material collection in male weaver birds, published in Emu, with Kate and Sue as co-authors among others.

Well done all!


We’ve had a busy few weeks here at the Healy lab, jetting off to all sorts of conferences:

Eira presented not one but two posters for the ESEB meeting at the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland. Both posters focus on nest building in birds, with one detailing the use of different nest material by zebra finches, and the other analysing nest morphology in weaver nests.

Eira poster ida poster




Sue and Lauren attended Behaviour2015 in Cairns, Australia. Along with Carel ten Cate, Sue organized a symposium on Avian Cognition which was very well attended. During the symposium Sue gave a talk about time/place learning in wild hummingbirds and Lauren gave a talk about social learning in nest-building zebra finches. After the conference they visited Macquarie University where Sue gave a departmental seminar on the role of learning in nest-building birds in the Department of Biological Sciences. Their tour continued at Newcastle University where they visited Andrea Griffin (check out their new paper here!)

sue and LG in Newcastle




Last week, Georgina and Nora attended the ASAB Summer Conference at the University of Lincoln. Georgina gave a talk regarding whether parasitoid wasps are “rational”, and Nora spoke about information encoding in tit species, and won a prize for 2nd best talk, so well done!


Paper published: Image analysis of weaverbird nests reveals signature weave patterns

Our paper ‘Image analysis of weaverbird nests reveals signature weave patterns’ was published today in The Royal Society Open Science (DOI:10.1098/rsos.150074).

People can be individually identified by their handwriting or by their artistic creations, including architectural designs. Like us, animals build physical structures, including nests. To determine whether we could assign a construction signature to nest-building weaverbirds we collaborated with texture analysis expert André Backes from Universidade Federal de Uberlândia, Brazil, using computer-aided texture analysis to classify the weave patterns in their nests. We found that individual weaverbirds did indeed produce nests with signature weave patterns. This shows both that like us individual animals have distinct construction styles and that texture analysis can be used to detect this individuality.

Four nest built by two Southern Masked weaverbirds illustrating differences in nest texture between males. The two nests in the top row are built by male (A) and those in the bottom row by male (B).

Four nest built by two Southern Masked weaverbirds illustrating differences in nest texture between males. The two nests in the top row are built by male (A) and those in the bottom row by male (B).