"It sounds like a joke."

Spiky Ball

A patient in a hospital in Belgium saw something highly unusual when looking out of his window: a peculiar bird's nest that appeared to be made out of metal spikes designed — ironically — to keep birds away from buildings.

"It just was this very big ball of metallic, nasty bird spikes," Auke-Florian Hiemstra, naturalist and PhD candidate at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, told Scientific American.

As it turns out, a crafty Eurasian magpie had stuck together some 1,500 spikes to build a formidable two-foot-wide nest. The bird even fastened some of these spikes on the top to ward off intruders, a kind of defensive roof magpies often build with thorny branches, according to the report.

"It sounds like a joke," Hiemstra added. "I think it’s so funny that now they’ve started to use these anti-bird spikes in the same way that we intended them to be used."

Hands Off

Hiemstra and his colleagues authored an entire scientific paper, published earlier this month in the journal DEINSEA, about the unusual phenomenon.

"The use of man-made, even sharp materials for nest building in birds is well known," the paper reads. "The first report of a crow’s nest made of barbed wire dates back to 1933, and recent (news) reports document the use of e.g. nails, screws, and drug users’ syringes in avian architecture."

Other research has shown birds incorporate plastic, glass, and even cigarette butts into their nests.

"Magpies may use the anti-bird spikes not just as ordinary nest material, but specific placement in the dome, overarching the nest, hints at functional use," the researchers wrote.

In other words, the birds are using our tools designed to keep them away against us.

"Using the material meant to scare birds off, using that to actually make more birds — I think it’s the perfect revenge," Hiemstra told SciAm.

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