Tying the Bird’s Nest

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.

Birds Nest from Tightline Productions on Vimeo.


          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.       

3 thoughts on “Tying the Bird’s Nest”

  1. Pingback: Photo of the Day: Cassie's Monster Redband | Orvis News
  2. This is a nice fly, but it is not a Birds Nest. A Birds Nest has a full collar of wood dunk flank fibers, not legs on each side.

    1. Yes Doug is right. I learned how to tie the Bird’s Nest from Cal Bird. The first ones he tied were with woodduck flank feathers but later he actually used teal flank feathers (or mallard if teal was hard to get) dyed maple sugar as the collar with dubbing both in front of and behind the collar. He used a “distribution wrap” to put it in place and could virtually use any size feather to tie it exactly the size he wanted to using that wrap. It always looked like the fly he was tying wasn’t going to turn out, and yet it turned out perfectly every time. Cal came and tied in the Orvis San Francisco booth at the San Mateo Sportsman’s show in the late 80’s and early 90’s while I was working there. He was a true master and a gentle, welcoming soul to boot! I have a number of his flies that he tied up for me and they are my treasures.

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