Loyal master builders

by Andrea Fernández

A story goes around the world (Issue III/2020)


The rufous hornero. Illustration: mauritius images

You can spot it in the lonely Patagonian steppe, on the Andean slopes, where all plants seem to have spikes, in the cloud forests of the canyons and the impenetrable jungles of the lowlands. It is also to be found in Argentina's big cities: on almost every corner, on trees, electricity pylons, fence posts or house gables you can find the brown nest of the Red Ovenbird. The shy, medium-sized bird has an inconspicuous brown plumage. But what makes it special is the shape of its nest. Built from clay and plant fibres, it resembles a traditional bread oven, as was once typical in the Argentinean countryside. The name Ovenbird - or its Spanish name "hornero", meaning "baker", stems from this.

This bird also lives in neighbouring countries and has only been a national bird in Argentina since 1928. The newspaper "La Razón", together with the Ornithological Society of Argentina, asked students to vote which bird would best represent the country. The majority voted for the Red Ovenbird. Surprisingly, the condor only made it to second place. The students explained their choice by citing the impressive diligence of the Red Ovenbird. Using their beaks alone, these birds build their nests within a few days, sometimes within a week. And this is done in close teamwork: Pairs of Red Ovenbirds do everything together and stay together for a lifetime. You can even hear them singing as a duo when the chicks learn to fly in early autumn. Then the parent birds leave the nest and start work on a new one next spring.

Translated by Jess Smee

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