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Nesting Materials for Songbirds

When spring approaches, the songbirds begin arrivng to our backyards with the hopes of building nests and raising their young. You can help them find nesting materials by offering some very common items around the house. This article explains what those common nesting materials are and how to attract backyard birds to them.

As songbirds return to their spring nesting areas and prepare their nests for this season's brood of young birds, there are ways that you can help them. Many people enjoy bird watching and encourage birds into their yard. With a few simple tips, you can help your backyard songbirds as they prepare their nests.

First, let's start by saying that most songbirds will gather small pieces of twig to build the outer structure of the nest. You may see them in your garden or around your house picking at twigs and then flying off with two or three in their mouth. The outer structure of the nest needs to be sturdy to hold the eggs and the young once they break through the egg.

After the outer structure of the nest is built, the songbirds will then search for softer materials to fill the inside of the nest with. This is for the hatchlings as they emerge. Materials such as dried leaves, feathers from the parent birds, and even pieces of plastic bags may be found in the nest depending on the species of bird.

Since the outer nest is built first, let's start with some ways that you can help your nesting songbirds. If you have a spot or two in your yard, where you can put these materials together for the birds, they'll find it and will pick through the clump to take what they need. Using an old wooden box or some other type of box that you can collect these materials in works well. I've also made other suggestions for each material on how you can attract birds to it.

Twigs and Pruning

Every spring as you prune your shrubs and clip off dead branches and stems from your plants, you can use this material for your nesting songbirds. Instead of throwing away these twigs, cut the thinner stems into 2”-4” pieces and let them fall to the ground. Birds will easily find these twigs and if they're the right size and plant type, they'll scoop them up and use them in their nest. Since the pieces are cut small, whatever the birds don't use is just added mulch to your garden. Think of this as going green and helping your nesting birds.

Grass

Dead grass clippings are another natural material that birds use for their nests. After mowing the lawn, save a handful of grass clippings and add them to the clump of other materials. Only use grass clippings that are not chemically treated. If you treat your lawn, forget the grass.

Mud

Many songbirds will use mud to 'glue' their nest together. You can easily offer them this nesting material by turning a pot cover upside down, filling it with water and dirt. Keep it moist in order to attract the birds.

String

Many birds will use pieces of string in their nests and this is usually something we all have around the house. The birds use the string to weave through the outer nest and hold it together. Some birds will use the string as bedding. The string pieces should be between 4 inches and 6 inches long, but no longer. If it's longer than 6 inches, please cut the string to shorten it as baby birds might wrap themselves in a longer piece of string and die.

Don't use thread as it's too thin. If you have leftover yarn, twine, or you can cut thin pieces of fabric to put out for the birds. You can either put the string pieces on the ground under a tree, or it's fun to hang the pieces of string in a pine tree on pine needles and watch the birds pick and choose.

Batting

If you have left over batting from a sewing project or you're throwing out something with batting in it, keep in mind that batting offers a nice soft cushion for the hatchlings. Just remove the batting from an item or a bag and mix it in with the other nesting materials. The birds that will use the batting, will pull the batting out to make their nests.

Pet Hair

Do you have a dog or cat that you regularly brush? Save the hair! As you clean the pet hair off the brush, add it to your pile of nesting materials. Most birds, especially swallows and chickadees, love pet hair. You can also put this hair into a mesh bag just like with the clothes lint, and hang it from a tree.

At this point, I have to tell a story. One of my cats has a thick undercoat of really soft down-like fur. I have to brush her daily even though she's a short-haired cat. For the past three, years, I've had swallows nest in my bluebird boxes after the bluebirds move out. My routine is to have my tea on the deck in the morning and I brush my cat afterwards. There's one swallow, she comes back every year, and she'll wait on the roof for me to start brushing. I usually pull the hair off the brush and let it float in the wind. We have so many trees that the hair will get caught in a tree and the birds will easily retrieve it. This one swallow, will swoop down and catch the little clump of hair in flight and go off to the birdbox. She'll do this for several mornings in a row and about 4 or 5 times each morning. My husband thought I was losing it when I first told him this story, however, he happened to be home one morning and saw it for himself. I anxiously await her arrival each year.

Image Source: cooee/morgueFile

References: Wild Bird Watchikng

Birdchick

Danny Lipford

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Comments (18)
Great tips for how to provide nesting materials for birds.

I love the story at the end, it shows your connection well to the subject matter. Good article.

Ranked #2 in Birds

I loved your story!  I live rurally, the birds often take bits of straw, but I have also started to leave bits of sheep fleece for them too and they will that that.  I also have pet pigeons so we have to make sure they have nesting material.

Great tips for supporting nature with some musical tweets in return, Sandy.

I absolutely love watching birds build their nests with bits of 'this' and 'that'. Great article!

excellent tips

I love your story of the swallow catching your cat's hair. I wish I could see this. You gave us excellent tips here again, Sandy. A very beautiful post, thank you, my friend. Have a nice day!

I love to hear about personal relationships with the local wildlife. They are definitely opportunists. My yard flock like to line up on the fence in the morning and squawk until I fill the feeders. The hummers will do a "in-you-face" talking to when their feeders need help. My favorite is the ruby-throat hummingbird that lingers around just waiting for me to grab the hose set at a fine mist for his daily front and back shower. After all...these are just dumb animals and boy do they have me trained.

Ranked #10 in Birds

I love to watch songbirds. thank you Sandy. Hope to avail your friendlky support.

Great information. Birds certainly do make life more cheerful. Even better if you have them nesting close by.

Very good tips.  I love the story at the end. 

What a lovely post, Sandy. I love to hear the birds sing. And some are so beautiful to look at, as well.  In fact, I hear lovely birds singing as I type this comment.   

Re-visiting. : )

I loved your story. Great article

That's a fantastic idea about the pet hair. Very informative article. These birds are so cute.

Re-visiting. Sorry I cannot send you a direct message like with Factoidz, but I wanted to thank you for recommending SOMA.com. I will certainly check them out! : )

Hello Sandy, enjoy your articles and advice. Check out mine when you have the time. Nice seeing you again.

I think that collecting nesting materials for songbirds is a very enjoyable experience!

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