Apr 07

Print this Post

Nature’s Not Neat: Birds Need Nesting Material

Birds need nesting materialSeveral 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Other nest materials include bark, moss, animal fibers such as fur/hair and green plant fibers from a variety of plants.
  6. 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!


NWF’s highlights of natural materials from your garden

Neat videos:

The titmouse and the dog

Paddyfield pipit and grass collecting

Myna? Collecting plant material

Bluebirds w/grass at the nest box

Share this...Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

About the author

Mitch Leachman

Mitch Leachman is the Executive Director of the St. Louis Audubon Society and coordinator of the Bring Conservation Home program.

He has been gardening with native plants for over 10 years and enjoys every one of the critters (including the rabbits and squirrels) supported by his current inventory of 65 species of native plants.

On staff with St. Louis Audubon since 2008, Mitch plans and coordinates many chapter activities, including Bring Conservation Home, community stewardship projects, fundraising, communications and outreach.

Permanent link to this article: http://stlouisaudubon.org/blog/birds-need-nesting-material/


  1. Gail Saxton

    I’m wondering if birds like wool roving (fleece from a sheep that has been cleaned and brushed loose, but not yet spun into yarn)?

  2. Mitch Leachman

    Gail, I expect most any “natural” fiber should be OK. I’ve read where there is some concern about fleece/wool staying wet and cooling the eggs/babies. Yet, it is a fiber you expect they would find in the wild. Human hair is another story and best avoided. It is finer and “sharper” than most animal fur and can easily wrap around the young, cutting off circulation or even strangling them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE