The 12 Days of Christmas: Four Calling Birds

Editor’s note: To celebrate the holiday season, we are counting down the twelve days of Christmas with a fly-fishing theme. (Yes, we realize that the actual Twelvetide celebration comes after Christmas, but that didn’t seem as fun.)  We’re using classic posts that align with the lyrics of the traditional tune as closely as possible. “Calling birds” called to mind the classic pattern created by a man named Bird.

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling birds. . .”

Cal Bird owned a small fly shop in San Francisco in the 1940s and ’50s, and he created the Bird’s Nest in 1959 as a caddis-pupa imitation to use on the Truckee River. Most anglers now consider it an attractor pattern for use in a wide variety of angling situations. The original recipe called for a dubbing mix of Australian possum and dyed coyote and wood-duck flank fibers for the tail and legs, although many tiers now use substitutes. The standard pattern is tan, but you can also tie the Bird’s Nest in cream, brown, and olive. One of the keys to the pattern’s success is its “ratty” appearance, so it’s important that you pick or brush out dubbing fibers after you’ve whip-finished.

In this video, by Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions, Matt Grobert ties his version of a Beadhead Bird’s Nest. Grobert, an author and blogger, shows the best way to tie this deceptively simple pattern so that it’s attractive and durable. As usual, there are a couple of neat tying tricks on display that you can use for many different patterns. For instance, note how Matt uses a couple wraps of lead wire to hold the bead in place, and employs a finger to trap the ribbing wire against the vise as he’s wrapping over it, which keeps the wire straight against the hook shank. You’ll also learn why it’s easier to tie in wood-duck-fiber legs without first cutting the fibers off the feathers.

          Beadhead Bird’s Nest
          Hook: 3X-long nymph hook (here a Dai-Riki #285), sizes 6-16.
          Bead: Copper, size to match hook.
          Weight: Lead wire, .02″.
          Thread: Olive, 6/0.
          Tail: Wood-duck fibers.
          Rib: Copper Ultra Wire, small.
          Abdomen: Natural Australian possum dubbing.
          Legs: Wood-duck fibers.
          Thorax: Natural Australian possum dubbing.
          Note: Pick out the dubbing to create a “ratty” look.

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