Birds nesting in humans remains: an unexplored phenomenon

Main Article Content

Roberta Fusco


Ossuary habitats, taphonomy, nest in the skull, human-animal spaces


Ossuaries, designed for human bone preservation, become unexpected habitats for birds like swallows and pigeons, offering a unique opportunity to study the taphonomic signs of this interaction. Birds choose ossuaries for nesting due to the stable substrate of human remains, particularly the durable and protective nature of skulls. This symbiosis highlights the adaptability of animals to unconventional environments. Narratives from 19th- and 20th-century English literature chronicle instances of birds nesting in human skulls, captivating ornithologists, and curiosity enthusiasts. Moreover, modern cemeteries, exemplified in England and France's Breton region, serve as additional settings for bird nesting, highlighting the diverse choices of shelter made by birds. A comprehensive analysis of these occurrences holds the potential to yield valuable insights into taphonomy, bone preservation, and the ecological dynamics of anthropized environments. This article serves as a succinct reference, encouraging further investigation into the unique interaction between life and death.


Abstract 18 | PDF Downloads 16


Armstrong, E. A. (1955). The wren. London, Collins.
Blanchan, N. (1907). Birds every child should know. New York : Grosset & Dunlap.
Caroline, S. (2015).
Chilvers, F. T. (1877). Bird’s nest in a Human skull. In The Garden: Vol. XII (p. 133). Ex libris.
Cenzi I. (2020).
Coughlin, M. (2016). Skull boxes. Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion.
Dixon, C. (1902). Birds’ nests; an introduction to the science of caliology. London, G. Richards; New York, F. A. Stokes company.
Ericson, P. G. P. (1987). Interpretations of archaeological bird remains: A taphonomic approach. Journal of Archaeological Science, 14(1), 65-75.
Gifford-Gonzalez, D. (2018). An introduction to zooarchaeology. Cham: Springer.
Healy, S. D. (2022). Nests and nest building in birds. Current Biology, 32(20), R1121-R1126.
Indra, L., Errickson, D., Young, A., & Lösch, S. (2022). Uncovering Forensic Taphonomic Agents: Animal Scavenging in the European Context. Biology, 11(4), 601.
Northampton Mercury 12.7.12
Quinton, J. M., & Duinker, P. N. (2019). Beyond burial: Researching and managing cemeteries as urban green spaces, with examples from Canada. Environmental Reviews, 27(2), 252-262.
Read, J. L., & Wilson, D. (2004). Scavengers and detritivores of kangaroo harvest offcuts in arid Australia. Wildlife Research, 31(1), 51-56.
Smith, A. D., & Minor, E. (2019). Chicago’s Urban Cemeteries as Habitat for Cavity-Nesting Birds. Sustainability, 11(12), Article 12.
Stevenson, H. (1876). Ornithological notes from Norfolks. In Zoologist (pp. 5105-5108). University of California.
Travis, H, (1876). Redstarts and Blue Tits nesting in Human Skull. In Zoologist (p. 5042). University of California.