Design principles of biologically fabricated avian nests


Materials and construction methods of nests vary between bird species and at present, very little is known about the relationships between architecture and function in these structures. This study combines computational and experimental techniques to study the structural biology of nests fabricated by the edible nest swiftlet Aerodramus fuciphagus on vertical rock walls using threaded saliva. Utilizing its own saliva as a construction material allows the swiftlets full control over the structural features at a very high resolution in a process similar to additive manufacturing. It was hypothesized that the mechanical properties would vary between the structural regions of the nest (i.e. anchoring to the wall, center of the cup, and rim) mainly by means of architecture to offer structural support and bear the natural loads of birds and eggs. We generated numerical models of swiftlet nests from $μ$CT scans based on collected swiftlet nests, which we loaded with a force of birds and eggs. This was done in order to study and assess the stress distribution that characterizes the specific nest’s architecture, evaluate its strength and weak points if any, as well as to understand the rationale and benefits that underlie this natural structure. We show that macro- and micro-scale structural patterns are identical in all nests, suggesting that their construction is governed by specific design principles. The nests' response to applied loads of birds and eggs in finite element simulations suggests a mechanical overdesign strategy, which ensures the stresses experienced by its components in any loading scenario are actively minimized to be significantly smaller than the tensile fracture strength of the nests' material. These findings highlight mechanical overdesign as a biological strategy for resilient, single-material constructions designed to protect eggs and hatchlings.

Scientific Reports
Shmuel Osovski
Shmuel Osovski
Asst. Prof.

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