Coot nests made from plastic debris: personalities, fledging success and nest isolation

Coot's nest full of debris

Coots use all kinds of litter in their nests; windscreen wipers, bicycle tires, condoms, cocaine envelopes, artificial plants, sunglasses and nowadays also our face masks. Biologist Auke-Florian Hiemstra wants to know why these birds do this and what the consequences are of the usage of this new material.

With three research internships, master's students have the opportunity to contribute to this research; and to discover more about this unusual behaviour in the Anthropocene.


For more information contact:
Auke-Florian Hiemstra (Naturalis) 
Period and duration:
Start date: Summer/Fall 2023

and context

During my PhD, I am studying animal architecture: structures made by animals. A nest says a lot about the environment in which an animal lives. And if you compare the old nests in our collection with the nests of today, you will notice that our world has changed dramatically. 

The coot is the first freshwater bird to be investigated for plastic use in its nest. But the more we discover about this new behaviour, the more questions arise. We investigate the innovative behaviour of handling a new type of nesting material and study the response of a bird adapting to urban life - surrounded by pollution.

Last year, we organized a nationwide citizen science study in which thousands of people participated. With the help of some master students, this year we want to further zoom in on some interesting issues. 

Objectives and
student requirements

We are looking for MSc students in the field of ecology and behavior, to investigate the personalities of plastic-using coots, and the impacts of plastic in the nest on the fledging success of the young.

But we are also looking for a more technical Msc student for an internship on the effect of plastic on the heat regulation in the nest. Experience working with thermal cameras is a plus.

Students are encouraged to engage with outreach activities, either with museum visitors in Naturalis' LiveScience exhibit, or with the general public.


The project will be carried out in the Evolutionary Ecology group at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, under supervision of Auke-Florian Hiemstra, and with the help of Prof. Dr. Menno Schilthuizen and Prof. Dr. Barbara Gravendeel. The student will write a thesis on the topic and contribute to the larger research project on plastic debris in coot nests by Auke-Florian Hiemstra.

Interested? Mail your CV and a short motivation to