Bird Stewards

Providing Nesting Materials for Birds

How to Leave Nesting Materials Out For Birds

This is a series on how to help the birds who live around you or are stopping over on their way to their summer or winter grounds. Last month we discussed proper bird feeder and bath hygiene. This month we will discuss nesting materials.

Nesting Materials

It’s that time of year when many of our birds have returned for the spring/summer breeding season and there are many things you can do to help make life simpler for our feathered friends. One way to help at this time of year is by ensuring that safe, Cornell Lab-approved nesting materials and dead plant material are in your yard.


Don't Clean Up That Yard!

It’s not hard to imagine that birds make use of last year’s leaves, stems, and other plant materials – that’s what they have been doing for millions of years. So one of the best things you can possibly do for birds is leave last year’s dead vegetation. If you want to clean up your yard, then just remove the dead stems, sticks, leaves, twigs, and pile them together where birds can have easy access to them. Dry grass is also a great nesting material, but only if it hasn’t been treated with fertilizers or pesticides. Please make sure any vegetation you put out for birds has not been sprayed or treated with chemicals.


Other items that make for good nesting material include pine needles, clean feathers, and plant fluff or down – such as from cattail fluff, cottonwood down, or milkweed strands. Birds will take moss if you have it lying around and bark strips.

You can let these items simply collect in little pockets around your yard, pile it together, or use a container to make it accessible. If you want to put yarn/string out it should be cut into pieces less than 2 inches long, but it’s generally discouraged.

Nesting Materials Don'ts

Things you should never put out include tinsel, plastic strips, cellophane, and aluminum foil. We recommend following the rule – if birds couldn’t find that material 60 million years ago (yes, modern birds have been around for more than 60 million years!), then it should not be put out. Even though human hair, pet hair and dryer lint seem like they are “natural” materials, they are in fact very dangerous. Lint can become dry and crumbly once it’s become wet and become very problematic and even suffocating. Meanwhile, human hair and pet fur can become tangled around bird feet and beaks.


Where To Leave Nesting Materials

Occasional nesting materials include snakeskin and spider silk, so again, try not to clean your yard up too much and let snakes and spiders be undisturbed. Many birds also use mud, such as robin, swallows, and phoebes, so allowing a mud puddle to remain could also be very helpful (it won’t be hard this year’s spring weather!).


You can leave your nesting materials in piles on the ground, draped over vegetation, and pushed into tree crevices. You can also use clean wire-mesh suet cages or mesh bags hanging on tree trunks or from railings, or open-topped berry baskets.

nest material

Thank you for being a bird steward!

And remember to enjoy the birds because they will enjoy safe nesting materials from you!