Several times in the last week or so I’ve watched a sparrow collect old plant material in my backyard and then fly away to continue constructing its nest. Of course, I didn’t have my camera or phone handy to capture the activity, but this video of a Paddyfield Pipit, likely taken in Asia, captures the very same activity.
Then, just today we spied an American Robin doing the same thing and happened to have our camera handy.See the video here.
It was a great reminder of one more reason to conduct your spring garden cleanup with care. In a recent blog post, Dawn Weber highlighted a variety of organisms that benefit from retaining old plant material, which focused on the insects. Consider similar practices to help the birds build their nests, including:
- When cleaning up branches and twigs after a storm or while pruning, leave some in your beds or an out of the way corner, especially short pieces of the smallest of them. Woody twigs are used by many common bird species but especially doves, jays, robins, finches and wrens.
- Our native grasses are woven into nests and consider piling them loosely on top of your compost bin or simply leave some of them around the source plant. Those not picked up by birds will be there as natural mulch. Don’t worry about the length; most birds can “wrap” up a longer piece quite easily, and you might even save them some trips. Cardinals and robins use lots of grass fibers as do jays, doves and mockingbirds.
- Downy plant “fluff” is especially helpful as a soft lining for many nests. Think the delicate filaments that allow milkweed seeds to blow in the wind or cottonwood fluff. Consider saving some of your milkweed pods in a suet cage or such where they can dry out, crack open and be “harvested” by hummingbirds, goldfinch or titmice.
- Should you have a spot that has been challenging to garden, consider keeping it moist and cultivating mud. Robins and nuthatches just might reward you with nestlings nearby.
- Other nest materials include bark, moss, animal fibers such as fur/hair and green plant fibers from a variety of plants.
- Finally, you may choose to provide one or more supplements as nesting materials, such as cloth, dog fur, yarn or feathers. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a very nice Do’s and Dont’s on this subject.
Lastly, do make sure at least some of these nest material pantries are visible to you and your family so you can watch your own habitat function, just like it’s supposed to do. Enjoy!