Episode 246 – Tailorbird: A Rivet Run Through It

“…and today we’re talking about a bird that sings a song which is soft but it’s clear, as if maybe someone could hear. But more on that later.”

Sewing is a human tradition that is as old as the shame of Adam and Eve. What started as a way to protect yourself from the elements and embarrassment has become a cultural touchstone all over the world. But human textiles and tapestries aren’t the only examples of sewing in nature. A tiny tailor lives in tropical Asia, sewing its heart out for hearth and home. But perfecting a skill is a noble pursuit in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Common Tailorbird

  • Small, finch-shaped bird with a long kingfisher-esque beak – similar to a stubby sandpiper.
  • Not a ton of sexual dimorphism here. Both males and females have pale green backs with white bellies and red tufts on their crowns. 
  • They have wiry pink legs with a long green tail.
  • They also have black patches under their necks that is more visible when they sing. But these are actually black patches of bare skin rather than a tuft of feathers.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at Gmail dot com. We do have a measure up intro from Melissa.


  • 10 to 14 centimeters (3.9 to 5.5 in)
  • How many tailorbirds go into the length of the t-shirt made by Plastindia Foundation in 2018?
  • Hint: The t-shirt was made from 200,000 plastic bottles and features a green and white striped pattern.
  • 693 birds. The shirt was 96.86 m (317.78 ft) long.


  • 6 to 10 grams (0.21 to 0.35 oz)
  • How many tailorbirds go into the weight of Fantasy by Gail Be, the world’s largest beaded wedding dress.
  • Hint: I discovered this dress looking for heavy fabrics because of the tailoring/ sewing theme. Ironically, this dress has no thread at all. It’s all beads. The dress’s train is more than 20 feet long. The dress has more than seven miles of beading wire and more than a million beads.
  • 18,285.7 tailorbirds. The dress is more than 400 lbs.

Fast Facts about the Common Tailorbird

  • Range: They live all over the place in south and southeast Asia including India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka all the way to China and into Indonesia.
  • Diet: They eat a variety of bugs and beetles but they also enjoy fruit and nectar from flowers.
  • Behavior: After breeding, the female will lay a clutch of about 3 eggs that will take a fortnight to hatch and another fortnight for the chicks to fledge
    • Tailorbirds are easy targets for the cuckoo bird’s brood parasitism

Major Fact: Sewing, Soaring, and Snoring

Common tailorbirds actually sew. Like for real. While they are actual seamstresses, they aren’t actually tailors, since they aren’t out there making tiny suits and dresses. 

Instead, the sew for nesting purposes. 

First, the female will find a suitable leaf for nesting. The leaf has to be large and fresh, able to bend without breaking. She’ll use her feet to wrap the leaf around her to test its size.

When she finds a good candidate, she’ll use her slender beak to puncture holes around the edge of the leaf. The holes are so small that they don’t damage the leaf or cause it to brown. 

Next, she’ll find fine fibers to fill the fissures. They’ll use spider silk, cotton fibers, caterpillar cocoons, and lint as thread. Thread joins holes together. The tailorbird isn’t tying knots, but the course threads grip the elastic, supple leaves without coming undone. 

Nests also include a roof that provides shade and rain protection. 

In some cases, nests are made from a one, large leaf that is sewn to itself. But if she can’t find a large enough leaf, she’ll sew several together. 

Ending: So eat a delicious beetle, don’t forget to add a light drizzle of nectar, and stitch yourself a house like the tailorbird here in LDT.