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Provide Spring Nesting Materials For Birds

Robin with nesting materials 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 robin’s, 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.

Types of Material

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:

Twigs

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.

Greenery

Wren with nesting materials 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.

Fluff

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.

Mud

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 common robin.

Dry Grass

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.

Moss

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 species.

Hair

Sparrow with nesting materials 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 water.

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.

Avoid These Materials

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 to synthetics.

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.

Nesting Material Delivery Systems

Suet Feeder with nesting materials 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.

Commercially Available Products

Hummer Helper Cage and Nesting 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. But there are lots of other really great products.

Further Information

 The Life Cycle of Plants: Fertilization
 The Spruce: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer
 Pollination and Fertilization