Using Nesting Materials to Attract Birds to Your Backyard

If You Offer It, They Will Build

Spring is peak season for birdwatching as birds are returning to yards to build nests and mate after their long migration.

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

Northern gannet collecting kelp to build a nest
Northern gannet collecting kelp to build a nest

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.

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 found in your yard.

READ: Spring Migration Earlier in European and North American Birds

Lappet-faced Vulture building a nest
Lappet-faced Vulture building a nest


Don’t Use These as Nesting Materials

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, since 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 get tangled and injure chicks in the nest.

Birds grab things like cellophane and plastic for their nest.

Pair of Eastern Bluebirds gathering nesting material
Pair of Eastern Bluebirds gathering nesting material

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.

READ: Avoid South-facing Locations When Putting Up Nest Boxes

White stork (Ciconia ciconia)with young baby stork on the nest
White stork (Ciconia ciconia)with young baby stork on the nest

Delivering Nesting Materials to the Birds

So you’ve assembled this collection of twigs, pet fur, and strips of natural fibers and feathers.

What’s next?

You need a way to provide the nesting materials to birds in your yard.

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

Another option is spreading 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 try using natural mesh bags, or making your own nesting material ornaments hangers out of wire.

Great Blue Heron family in nest
Great Blue Heron family in nest

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.

Hodgson’s frogmouth with its two juvenile chicks in the nest
Hodgson’s frogmouth with its two juvenile chicks in the nest

So this spring, instead of bribing birds into your backyard with food, try providing 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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