Nesting Materials for Birds

My Garden Life
July 29, 2020
Table of Contents

If you’re the kind of gardener who is always looking for better ways to support the flora and fauna of your outdoor spaces, then you’ll be interested to learn more about nesting materials for birds. Make your landscape a haven for backyard birds by providing them with the natural materials they need to build their nests. Here’s some tips on how (and how not) to do that.

Bird Nesting Material Dos:

Cactus wren carrying nesting materials.

1. DO make small sticks, twigs and straw available to the birds

Natural materials like these—the kind of debris you rake from your lawn and garden beds once the snow and frost have gone—are exactly what most birds use as the base of their nests. Instead of bagging up that yard waste, make small, easily accessible piles for birds to scavenge from for their home building activities. Or stuff a handful of twigs or straw into an empty suet or other type of feeder and hang it near your backyard birds’ food supply. Clean hay is available at most garden centers and birds love it for their nests.

Autumn and winter garden debris is a source of nesting material for birds in the spring.

2. DO leave your grass clippings for the birds

Grasses may be second only to twigs on the list of favorite nesting materials for birds. If you’re already leaving your clippings on your lawn to compost after you mow—a great way to encourage a healthy lawn –then don’t change a thing! The birds will be able to find what they need. If you feel you must remove the clippings, then consider setting aside a small pile during the nesting season for the birds to pick through. One caveat: Don’t let birds access grass treated with weed killers or chemical fertilizers.

Bird gathering grass for nesting material.

3. DO provide natural sources of fluff for birds’ nests

You can put out organic cottons, wool and even pet fur for birds like hummingbirds who like a fuzzy nesting materials. The hair you brush from your pet is fine if it’s short and the pet wasn’t recently treated with chemicals for fleas and ticks.

Cute dog with hairy mess all over sofa.

4. DO establish plants in your landscape that offer nesting material

Choose plants that naturally produce the type of materials that birds prefer for nesting. These include:

Plants that provide good nesting materials: milkweed, lamb's ear, cottonwood trees, fountain grass.

Bird Nesting Material Don’ts:

Robin with plastic string for its nest.

1. DON’T put out long strands of yarn, string or ribbon

These can wrap around baby birds, injuring or killing them. Natural fibers, without dyes or other treatment, are best as long as they are cut into pieces no longer than 2 inches (5 cm).

Scraps of yarns and ribbons.

2. DON’T use human hair

Human hair is strong and very often long enough to be dangerous. It would be easy for birds, especially babies, to become injured by getting entangled in hair.

Woman showing hair in a hair brush.

3. DON’T use dryer lint

Dryer lint doesn’t make good nesting material. It tends to disintegrate in rains and could potentially leave holes in the nests of the birds that build with it.

Person removing lint trap from a clothes dryer.

4. DON’T put out any plastic items

Plastic items such as those in the following list do not make good nesting materials.  They can entangle birds, potentially introduce toxins to the nest, and the white or bright colors of many plastic items can draw unwanted attention to the nest by making it more noticeable to predators.
  • Bags
  • Ties
  • Ribbon
  • Wrapped wire
  • Fishing line

Bird's nest made partially with plastic bags.

An Easy Way to Dispense Nesting Materials for Birds

A cage-style bird feeder designed for suet makes a good dispenser of nesting materials. You can use it to offer yarn or fiber cord to birds, but only if cut into small one to two-inch pieces. You could also stuff it with natural nesting materials such as dried grass from your ornamental grasses, staw, or hay.  Fiber from milkweed pods is another natural nesting material that is attractive to birds.

A cage style bird feeder filled with short yarn pieces for nesting materials for birds

You’ve got food and nesting materials for your backyard birds, what else can you do to attract birds to your landscape and keep them healthy and happy? How about a source of water? Just a single birdbath will entice a wide range of thirsty birds and potentially bees and butterflies as well, that may perch at the edge of the water for a sip. Birdbaths can help wildlife survive during dry spells and there are many decorative birdbath options to enhance your landscape.

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