Nature’s Master Architects: Look Inside Some Amazing Birds’ Nests

Bianca Tuckwell’s photos of abandoned bird nests offer a closer look at exquisite home design–and a touching tribute to her late father.

Bianca Tuckwell begins most mornings by observing the nesting habits of a gregarious Blue Tit in a bird box outside her bedroom window in Surrey, England. “I watch it pop in and out to gather materials,” she tells Co.Design. “I’ll see it pick up a bit of moss and think to myself, ‘Yep, you’re gonna need that.’”


Tuckwell has become intimately familiar with the construction plans of birds–and not just this one–of late. Last winter, when she moved to a “slightly more rural” part of the English countryside, Tuckwell began to notice and admire a number of intricate, abandoned nests hiding within the deciduous trees. And the artistic observation came at just the right time; the University of Creative Arts student was searching for a subject for her final project, something that offered the opportunity to unite still life and studio-based photography into a single, organic series.

Her luck continued in the form of Fred Mills, the father of a good friend from her course, who’d mentioned her project to his bird’s nest-obsessed dad and made the fortuitous introduction. Mills is a carpenter by trade, but has been fascinated by all kinds of roosts for the past “60 years or so,” since he was a curious boy exploring the terrain. “I would always go back and see the babies, but never touched them. I would watch them from eggs until they left, and once they were gone then you could see what the nests were made of,” he says. “They are so delicate in design. One might have a thousand pieces that make it up, each taken on a single trip.”

In what Mills describes as “the off-season,” he found nine abandoned specimens. He delivered in boxes to Tuckwell, who handled them with a curator’s care in gloved hands. Over the course of five months, she studied and photographed the set, comparing composition and parts in a kind of artistic ornithological study. “They are just amazing–the variation, the way each is so carefully constructed, using just the right materials in order to protect and raise the young.” Branches and bark, errant threads and forgotten feathers, dried leaves and thin, gnarled twigs: This is what green architecture can only strive for.

Tuckwell named the series “The Growth That Is Our Own Cradle” as a tribute to her father, a man of the land and poet who passed away in 2011; during her own creative process her brother found one of his compositions that contained the titular line. “He absolutely loved nature and the English countryside,” Tuckwell says. “This was an inspiration for me, and throughout the whole project I have felt him close.”

Having found a home in nests, it’s an area Tuckwell will continue to document. Only next time, her study will be in insect architecture: The nests will be ones that wasps left behind.

(h/t It’s Nice That)