Safe and natural materials for birds to make their nest

Thank you so much to the person who wrote to me and asked about leaving materials outside for birds to use to make nests. While it isn’t time to think about that now – we still have snow in Manitoba – there are many places in the world where birds are looking for materials right now. You can also use this list to gather up materials later.

There are two common things that people put out thinking they are helping birds but they are not. Their little legs get caught, twisted, and broken. Those two things are mesh fruit bags and the other is yarn and string. There was a recent article suggesting that people put things inside a mesh bag so that the birds can pull the material out. Please don’t. Use a wire suet container – they cannot get their tiny legs caught in it – if you feel you have to hang up the material. There are also craftspeople making specialized metal objects just for this purpose. And while yarn is commonly thought of as a good nesting material and people delight in seeing the colourful strands woven into a nest, the yarn also can get twisted around little legs. I know that no one putting out nesting material wants to break the legs of these lovely creatures.

Similar idea to the metal suet maker. Made by a crafter on Etsy.

Some people suggest using dryer lint. Indeed, if you do a Google search you will surely turn up with a dozen or more entries supporting using dryer lint. The problem with dryer lint is when it gets wet. And it happens to rain in most places. Water causes the dryer lint to lose its nice soft properties and shrink and become hard. Try it and see what happens. Take some dryer lint out and soak it in some water and then set it aside. Wait until it dries. Note the changes.

Do not use any synthetic materials or anything that could have been treated. And, as always, sometimes we don’t even know if something has been chemically treated. For example, do not brush your dog and leave out the hair for the birds if you have given that pet any treatments, such as for fleas. You might consider the shampoo that you use for your dog. Does someone raise sheep near you? Natural wool works nicely as long as the sheep were not treated with any chemicals. Likewise human hair can be thin and long like fishing line – do not put it out for bird nests. And believe it or not, also don’t use horse hair. It is strong like fishing line and thin and can cut through little legs. Certainly we have seen what fishing line can do to eagles. Just imagine little tiny songbird legs.

A long time ago people advocated for yarn, string, human and animal hair but we now know better from all the wildlife rehabilitation clinics that have to deal with these issues. Think natural, think safe!

Weaver Bird Nest, Pretoria, South Africa. Straw and dried grasses. Wikimedia Commons.

Good materials to leave out are natural and have not been treated with pesticides or anything including dyes that add colour. They include leaves and twigs which can be left in piles, grasses as long as they have not been treated with pesticides, corn husks, moss including the kind that you use to line your hanging plant pots, strips of bark, feathers (but not from endangered birds or chemical treated to add colour – I am thinking from someone who raises chickens), the fluff from cattails, pine needles especially the longer ones, straw or hay, as well as milkweed.

Cattails. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the things people do not think about is watering an area to make some mud. Birds often use mud to hold their nest together. Some prefer mud as the majority material. A pair of Welcome Swallows made their nest on the top of a friend’s hydro metre in New Zealand. It was a lovely mud nest! Aren’t they cute?

Barn Swallow Nest made almost entirely of mud. Wikimedia Commons.
Bird nests in Botanical Garden, Mascarin. Wikimedia Commons.

We have a rabbit that lives in our garden named Hedwig. He was about a month old when we discovered him under the bird feeders. He is now four years old and still sits and eats the seeds the birds knock down. He has only lately taken to eating the hay that we leave out. Hedwig’s hay is also good for nest building.

Strips of handmade paper, as long as it is natural and not treated, arean excellent material for bird nests as are natural cotton buds.

Straw and grass nest, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Wikimedia Commons.
Weaver Bird nest, India. Wikimedia Commons.
Reed Warbler Nest. Wikimedia Commons.
Robin’s Nest. Wikimedia Commons.

No one will ever forget that beautiful egg cup that Daisy the Duck made in the middle of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle nest. So simple, so natural, and yet so utterly amazing. When we think of natural, this is it.

Pacific Black Duck Nest. Sea Eagle Streaming Cam scap.

Daisy touched so many lives. I know that we will never forget the joy that courageous little duck brought to all of us. There is also a lot of joy in watching the birds find the materials you have left for them in your garden. This is a really fun project and while you might never know how many birds benefited from your thoughtfulness, just realize that many will.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Take care. See you tomorrow!

Special thanks to my friend Mark for letting me use his image of the Barn Swallows, to Sea Eagle streaming cam, Birdlife Australia, and the Discovery Center and Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Chris says:

    Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) don’t occur in New Zealand. Those are Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena).

    1. Thank you so very much, Chris. It is much appreciated! I will go and check on that blog right now and fix that!

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