Don’t Toss That Old Bird’s Nest. Dissect It

Learn What Nesting Materials Attract Birds to your Backyard

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The backyard birdhouses at intoBirds were busy with avian tenants this year, and now we are enjoying cooler temperature here in the east, it’s time to remove the old bird’s nests and clean them out.

Since I enjoy studying bird’s feathers, Dan was elated to show me the contents of our aluminum Hepper Roost Birdhouse.


The birdhouse was filled to the top with nesting materials. With a bright blue feather sitting right on top.

Before recycling these nesting materials back to nature, we had to study them.

Birds have great creativity in choosing how they engineer their home
Birds have great creativity in choosing how they engineer their home

Dissect the Nest

It’s fun dissecting the nest to learn what birds in our backyard use to build their homes.

I put on a pair of rubber gloves and begin peeling away each layer of nesting materials. It’s a thrill to see what else I might find.

Dissecting the bird’s nest, I applaud my backyard birds for their creativity in choosing how they engineer their home.

The bottom was moist and packed with dirt, and the layers became drier and lighter as you got to the top of the nest.

There was nothing out of the ordinary.


Small twigs and sticks, fine woven grass and straw, coarse grass, string, corn husks, moss, nylon material from lawn chairs, string, fiber materials, plant matter, scraps of fur, mud, dead insects and four feathers.

This got me to thinking about what we could offer to our backyard birds as nesting material to encourage them to become our avian “tenants” this spring.

Having birds in your backyard gives you a unique opportunity to see the birds’ entire lifecycle.

From courtship behavior, nest building, to raising their young fledglings.

And if birds have the right nesting materials, you can attract several families of birds to your backyard sanctuary.

Pair of Red-tailed Hawks making a nest with branches
Pair of Red-tailed Hawks making a nest with branches

What is Nesting Material?

Nesting material is anything birds use to construct a nest.

These materials include twigs, soft plant matter, fluff (seeds with silly attachments like milkweed), mud, dry grass, moss, hair (pet fur or wool), snakeskins, natural fibers (yarn twine or string made of raw cotton or wool), and bird feathers in your yard.

House Sparrow grabs a feather as nesting material
House Sparrow grabs a feather as nesting material

Don’t Use These as Nesting Materials

Please, don’t provide human hair for birds to use as nesting materials.

It can get caught around the bird’s legs or necks, cutting off circulation.

Never provide fishing line or nylon twine as bird nesting material because it can cause deadly tangles.

Use caution leaving tarps around your yard.

We’ve watched birds pluck long, hair-like nylon fibers from old tarps. The strands can tangle and injure chicks in the nest.

Brown Thrasher building a nest in the bushes
Brown Thrasher building a nest in the bushes

Birds grab things like cellophane and plastic for their nest, so avoid discarding synthetic materials in the garbage that can get blow away and harm both the birds and the environment.

Never offer laundry dryer lint. Although it seems like the ideal nesting materials, it isn’t.

Dryer lint soaks up water and may contain unhealthy chemical remnants from laundry detergents and softeners.

Imperial Shag carrying nesting materials
Imperial Shag carrying nesting materials

Delivering Nesting Materials to the Birds

Now that you have assembled this collection of twigs, pet fur, and strips of natural fibers and feathers, you need a way to provide nesting materials to birds in your yard.

The easiest way to provide nesting materials for birds is to scatter it on the ground or put it in piles in sheltered areas where birds gather.

Pale Chanting Goshawks building a nest
Pale Chanting Goshawks building a nest

Another option is to spread bird nesting materials on top of shrubs, in tree crevices, or in baskets.

Or you can use an empty wire suet bird feeder cage and stuff it with nesting materials where your birds visit.

If you want to great creative can use natural mesh bags, or make your own nesting material ornaments hangers out of wire.

3 Ways to Make your Backyard Nest-friendly

1 – Leave grass clippings on your lawn

2 – Avoid using chemicals on your lawn, garden, or house

3 – Leave some areas of your yard “natural,” with plenty of hiding places and fallen debris for nest building, and natural populations of insects and spiders

Some birds like to use mud and spider webs to plaster their nests.

Black-throated Blue Warbler and its chicks
Black-throated Blue Warbler and its chicks

This spring, instead of bribing birds into your backyard with food, provide nesting materials to attract spring and summer birds.

If you offer it, they will build.

Now get out and see birds!


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  1. I’m curious. I was collecting my bird houses from around my property this October, to clean them and prepare for next spring. I have two questions. 1. Should I leave the bird houses up all winter as shelter for birds in bad weather? And 2. I found a bird house full of milkweed seeds with fluff. What creature might do that in preparation for the winter? I don’t know whether to take it down and clean it out or leave it up for the winter. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Marnie. We clean out our bird houses and leave them up for winter tenants. We noticed House Wrens are using them for the winter and since they can be of use, we leave them up. Our Carolina Wrens frequent them too. Birds are always looking for warm, dry places to roost in the winter. Birdhouses become roost boxes during the winter months and provide a great escape from the cold.

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