Attract Birds With Nesting Material

What Do Birds Use to Build Their Nests?

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Twigs, sticks and roots are popular nesting materials, but birds will use many different items for their nests. Photo © Richard Taylor/Flickr/Used With Permission

Spring is the perfect time to attract birds with nesting material, encouraging them to take up residence in your backyard. This gives birders the unique opportunity to see the entire life cycle of backyard birds, from courtship behavior to nest building to raising the young fledglings. With the right nesting material, you may even be able to attract several families of birds to your backyard.

Purpose of Nesting 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. Regardless of the nest size or shape, the nesting material serves several purposes:

  • Cushioning eggs from the ground and parents' weight
  • Insulating eggs from temperature changes
  • Holding the clutch together for heat efficiency
  • Camouflaging the nest from predators
  • Protecting the nest from the elements

To best protect their eggs, parent birds select nesting material carefully, and many birds use several types of material to construct a single nest.

Types of Nesting Material

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 number of eggs, multiple broods and yearly reuse. Materials popular for building nests include:

  • Twigs or sticks
  • Dead leaves
  • Grass clippings or dead grass
  • Yarn, string or thread
  • Human hair or animal fur
  • Feathers
  • Cattail fluff
  • Moss or lichen
  • Pine needles
  • Mud
  • Pebbles or small rocks
  • Spider web silk
  • Straw or other plant stems
  • Dental floss
  • Shredded paper
  • Broom bristles or mop string
  • Cotton balls
  • Bits of trash or other unusual waste or litter

    Many of these materials are available naturally in birds' environments. Birders who wish to encourage their backyard birds to nest can also provide supplementary sources of nesting material to attract birds.

    How to Attract Birds With Nesting Material

    There are several ways to offer nesting material in the backyard to attract birds.

    • 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.

    For the best results, offer several types of nesting material in several different ways to appeal to different birds.

    More Nesting Material Tips

    It may seem very easy to attract birds with nesting material, but conscientious birders will take steps to ensure the material they offer is suitable and safe for use in birds' nests. Just as clean bird feeders and safe bird houses are essential for healthy backyard birds, nesting material must also be appropriate.

    • 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.
       
    • When offering string, twine or thread, cut the nesting material into segments no more than 3-6 inches long. Shorter lengths will not be as attractive, while longer lengths can potentially strangle both adult birds and nestlings or cause injuries to legs and wings if the birds get tangled.
       
    • 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.
       
    • While nesting material can be gotten wet without problems, birds may be more attracted to sources of clean, dry material. Place the nesting material in a sheltered but visible location for the best results.

    In addition to providing nesting material to attract birds, be sure your backyard is bird-friendly with appropriate shelter, trees and bird houses so they will use that nesting material nearby. By offering a wide variety of materials, birders can invite backyard birds to build nests and raise their families close by, leading to unique and rewarding backyard birding experiences.