At this time of year, the sight of some battered bird-built structures can trigger summer dreams. Consider the Baltimore Oriole nest dangling from a linden branch above a Flagstaff Hill sidewalk in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park. Watch the bundle of plant fiber and ribbon scraps sway in a cold late winter wind and you might be able to imagine the nest partially concealed by bright green leaves and periodically visited by a bird with goldfish-orange feathers.
Baltimore Oriole pair in CMNH Bird Hall with nest and nest cross-section.
Such out of season thoughts are far from original. One hundred and sixty-one years ago, and some 500 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, naturalist Henry David Thoreau used a different common name for the species when he referenced the bright and melodic warm season residents in a winter journal entry.
What a reminiscence of summer, a fiery hangbird’s nest dangling from an elm over the road when perhaps the thermometer is down to -20, and the traveler goes beating his arms beneath it! It is hard to recall the strain of that bird then.
Henry David Thoreau – journal entry December 22, 1859
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.