Offering nesting material in spring is a sure way to attract birds to take up residence in your yard, but not all possible materials are safe and suitable for birds. The idea of saving dryer lint to give to nesting birds is common but can actually endanger both adult birds and nestlings in many ways.
Why Dryer Lint Seems Good
Birds use a wide variety of materials in their nests, and the soft, fuzzy nature of dryer lint makes it seem perfect for cushioning eggs and protecting chicks. Because the lint is a free byproduct of using a dryer and offering it to birds is an easy way to recycle, many people like to make it available to birds, and the birds may indeed use it. Doing so, however, can be detrimental for the nesting birds and their newly-hatched offspring.
How Dryer Lint Is Dangerous for Birds
There are many reasons why dryer lint is inappropriate and can even be dangerous as nesting material.
- Texture: Lint is stripped, torn fibers and has no structure of its own. Because of this, it falls apart easily and will not hold up to the activities of growing nestlings or adult birds moving around on the nest. After wet lint dries, it can be particularly brittle and a nest made of dryer lint will disintegrate quickly under the slightest stress.
- Chemicals: Depending on the exact detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets used, lint can contain perfumes, soap residue, harsh cleansers, and artificial dyes, none of which are safe for birds. The higher concentration of these chemicals in lint can make it particularly toxic, even in small amounts.
- Scent: The fresh scent of warm, dried laundry can be wonderful for humans. While most birds do not have a strong sense of smell and won't mind the odor, those same scents can attract predators right to a vulnerable nest.
- Dust: The small particles of dry, loose lint are easy to disturb and can be inhaled by birds, even young chicks. This dust can cause respiratory distress and even choking or suffocation in severe cases.
- Mold: When lint gets wet, it retains the moisture for far longer than more natural materials. Not only can staying in a damp nest chill birds, especially chicks that haven't yet grown feathers, but the wet lint can develop toxic mold or mildew that will linger and can infect birds.
- Stickiness: Wet dryer lint pulls apart easily but will stick to many surfaces and can become caked on birds' legs, feet, and plumage. In severe cases, this can disrupt the insulation of a bird's feathers and may have even more harmful effects on the development of feathers in growing chicks.
- Composition: While most dryer lint is made up of very small, fuzzy particles, longer threads, elastic strands, plastic fibers, or hairs can also be part of a mass of lint. Those long pieces can tangle around birds' legs, wings, or other body parts, potentially causing injuries similar to the dangerous effects of fishing line.
With so many hazards that dryer lint poses to brooding birds and chicks, it is never a good idea to offer it as nesting material.
Your Dryer Vent
While you may not directly offer lint to spring birds, it is important to inspect your outside dryer vent exhaust regularly. Even with interior screens, some lint can escape through the vent and will collect on the edges of the opening. Birds can find that material, especially when the dryer is in use and loose bits may be moving with the dryer's exhaust. Furthermore, since dryer lint is highly flammable, removing any accumulation is a good safety measure to protect your home as well as curious birds. Monthly inspections are a good precaution, and the vent should be cleaned out whenever any lint accumulation does build up. Doing so will also improve the dryer's efficiency and save money, leaving more available for other backyard birding supplies!
Other Dryer Lint Uses
Recycling is always a good idea and a great way to be an eco-conscious birder, but instead of offering dryer lint as nesting material, try these alternative, safer uses:
- Add dryer lint to a compost pile, but only if the lint is free from excessive dyes or perfumes.
- Carefully use a ball of lint as easy kindling for a fireplace, furnace, campfire, or outdoor fire pit.
- Add lint inside houseplant pots when repotting and allow it to decay as easy compost.
- Use lint to soak up spills after a home oil change, and dispose of the dirty lint responsibly.
- Add lint to a homemade paper mixture or papier mache for a soft fabric component.
- Make homemade dryer lint clay for a fun family craft.
- Use lint to cushion small packages for shipping.
- Stuff small toys or other filled crafts, but only when the material is non-porous and won't allow lint dust to escape.
Understanding why dryer lint is inappropriate for nesting birds can help backyard birders offer safer materials to encourage birds to nest nearby.