Beak shape and nest material use in birds

Catherine Sheard*, Sally E Street, Caitlin Evans, Kevin N Lala, Susan D Healy, Shoko Sugasawa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


The evolution of behaviour can both influence, and be influenced by, morphology. Recent advances in methods and data availability have facilitated broad-scale investigations of physical form and behavioural function in many contexts, but the relationship between animal morphology and object manipulation-particularly objects used in construction-remains largely unknown. Here, we employ a new global database of nest materials used by 5924 species of birds together with phylogenetically informed random forest models to evaluate the link between beak shape and these nest-building materials. We find that beak morphology, together with species diet and access to materials, can predict nest-material use above chance and with high accuracy (68-97%). Much of this relationship, however, is driven by phylogenetic signal and sampling biases. We therefore conclude that while variation in nest material use is linked with that of beak shape across bird species, these correlations are modulated by the ecological context and evolutionary history of these species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20220147
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1884
Early online date10 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2023


  • Morphology
  • Behaviour
  • Bird nests
  • Construction
  • Object manipulation
  • Form-function coevolution


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