Provide Spring Nesting Materials For Birds
Spring is here, and birds around the world—and in your backyard—are turning into construction crews.
It’s nesting time!
Many songbirds are master builders, putting together intricately made weavings of twig and leaf, stem and
fluff, hair and moss. Some nests, like the Baltimore oriole’s, will hang from a tree branch like a small tote
bag. Others, like the robins, are cups bristling with twigs painstakingly collected one or a few at a time.
Even if you provide birdhouses in your garden, the birds that occupy them will build nests in them.
So, what can you do about it? Well, you can provide nesting material of a wide variety of types that
appeal to a wide variety of birds, attracting avians to your garden as surely as you would with a feeder.
Both before and after laying eggs, mother birds need more calcium in their diets. Provide eggshells by
baking them at 250°F for about 10 minutes so the shells are dry. Crumble your eggshells well and place
them outdoors (in a feeder or even just on the ground) during the spring. You can also mix the eggshell
crumbles with birdseed, suet or mealworms in an existing birdfeeder.
The term nesting material refers to anything that birds may use to construct a nest. Whether they create
a simple depression of sticks and straw or if they have a more elaborate nest structure with intricate
architecture, all birds need good materials for their nests.
Different birds will use different materials to build their nests depending on the size of the nest, where it is
constructed and how it will be used in terms of the number of eggs, multiple broods, and yearly reuse.
Materials popular for building nests include:
For birds looking for small twigs, almost any tree or shrub you plant will do. When small branches or
twigs fall from a shrub and gather at its base, leave them for birds to pick up, preferably in lengths
under 4 inches.
Some birds line nests with soft plant matter. You can provide this accoutrement by growing
catkin-bearing trees and shrubs such as cottonwood, maple, mulberry, willows, poplar and beech.
Many birds—hummingbirds spring to mind, but other songbirds as well—gravitate toward fluffy
material, such as seeds with silky attachments designed to waft them on the wind or seed pods with a
soft, hairlike covering. You can provide these items via cottonwood trees, lamb’s ear (ground cover),
milkweed (also good for attracting monarch butterflies), honeysuckle, and clematis.
If you have a pesky spot in your garden that refuses to grow anything but dirt, try adding a little water
and see if you can grow mud. Mud is a favored nesting material for swallows and swifts and even the
When you trim your yard, perhaps you can find a spot in your garden for laying out a selection of dried
grass stems cut 2 to 4 inches long. Grass is a common ingredient in songbird nests, used by species
from native sparrows to robins.
If you have a shady spot in your yard, trying growing moss; with its velvety green growth, moss is a
beautiful highlight for any moist garden and is a favored building material of some hummingbird
Almost any kind of fur or wool will do. Dog fur is probably handiest for most people, especially when
dogs are shedding in spring. Curry them, take the fur off the brush, and put it in your garden (we’ll talk
below about ways to distribute it). If you use goat hair or wool from a sheep, cut longer pieces into 4- to
6- inch lengths. Animal fiber works well for nesting, because it is durable and not inclined to soak up
DO NOT USE any fur that has been treated with flea dips or insect repellents.
DO NOT USE human hair for birds! Human hair is so thin that it can easily wrap around birds
legs and necks, cutting off their circulation and causing serious injury or death.
Don’t use dryer lint! The lint collected in your dryer filter may seem like ideal nesting material, but it
isn’t. It will soak up water and may be steeped with chemicals unhealthy for birds, such as remnants of
detergent and softener.
Do not offer any plastic or nylon material, including fishing line. These materials can be deadly to the
birds and are frequently responsible for bird injuries. For fibers, natural cotton and wool are preferred
Avoid any material that has been treated with pesticides, fertilizers or other potentially toxic chemicals.
This includes pet hair with flea treatments or grass clippings after insect repellant applications as well
as heavily dyed paper.
So you have a collection of wool, dog hair and strips of natural fibers. How do you do deliver it to
birds? My favorite methods:
Drape material over trees or shrubs near birdfeeders or sheltered spots where birds may
build nests. Do not tie the material down, as the purpose is to allow birds to take it away.
Use a clean suet cage or similar feeder design and fill it with nesting material. Hang this
arrangement in a visible area where birds will notice it.
Create small piles of nesting material in places where it won't blow away or be soaked in spring
rains. A tray feeder can be temporarily used for this purpose.
Fill a mesh bag or basket loosely with suitable nesting material. Be sure the mesh is wide enough
for birds to extract the material, and hang it in a visible location.
Leave leaf litter and grass clippings loose on the ground instead of bagging the material. Birds
will help themselves to the material they are interested in.
There is quite a variety of commercially avaiable nesting materials -- try checking out Amazon with
the search terms 'bird nesting materials." My personal favorite is the refillable
Hummer Helper Cage and Nesting by Songbird Essentials — not just for hummers!
Help your bird friends by offering this ready-to-hand ball made of natural cotton — goldfinches love to pull on the cotton and use it to build their nests
Birds Choice Cotton Tail Nesting Ball by Songbird Essentials. But there are lots of other really great products.
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