Anatomy of a nest: Common Tailorbird

on 6th June 2007


The nest of the Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) was collected from my neighbour Sheng Lau’s garden towards the end of April 2007 after it was abandoned (left). From the outside the nest appeared empty, even when turned over and shaken. It was only after the nest was cut open did the two mummified chicks became apparent.

The nest was found among a group of short, herbaceous ginger plants (Family: Zingiberaceae) grown along the driveway with a dividing wall on the other side. It was about 200 cm from the ground. Two green leaves, 20 x 8 cm, were brought together to form the shell of the nest. The upper leaf was pulled down to merge with the lower and stitched together. The upper leaf formed the base while the lower the front of the nest shell. That half of the lower leaf towards the stem provided a sort of a porch over the nest opening (above). The image below (left) shows the nest from a different angle while that on the right shows the opening.


The bird/s apparently made holes along the leaf margin, about 4 cm apart, mostly towards the further half of the leaf. Pairs of holes from the two leaves were sewn together using mainly silk from spiders or caterpillars, the ends fluffed out to form knots. There were five stitches about 4 cm apart along one side of the nest and eight stitches on the other (above).

Build snugly within the shell formed by the two leaves was the conical nest. The nest proper was 10 x 5 cm, with the 4 cm diameter opening facing the stem. The nest was made up of plant parts – twigs, pieces of leaves, fibres and a number of plant floss that were not identifiable (left). There were even strips of plastic.

The nests of these tailorbirds are usually built with the help of two leaves. If the leaves are smaller, then three leaves are employed. An earlier account reported nesting in the simpoh air (Dillenia suffruticosa) bush, where the birds used a single large leaf to construct their nest.

YC Wee & Sheng Lau
June 2007

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. the common tailorbird keep using the same plant – costus speciosus (setawar) for nesting. they use the same method and materials with stitches along the leaf margin.

  2. I found your website absolutely fascinating! I have never been a serious bird watcher, but I am curious to know why all birds’ nests are round(ish)? The answer is probably as simple as it is a shape most commonly occuring in nature, but do you have an additional/alternative explanation?

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