Habitat Feature: Nesting Materials

Photo © Stan Lupo

One of the best parts of providing habitat for birds in your yard is the possibility of being chosen as a nesting site. The initial excitement of discovering a new nest tucked away in a shrub you planted, or one perched up on a ledge, is rivaled only by the joy of finding that precious clutch of eggs gently nestled within. The fledglings’ eventual success or failure depends on several environmental factors, some of which you can influence, and some of which are in the hands of the parents and chance.

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Photo © Karen Carlson

Nest building and rearing young require a lot of parental investment. Time spent building the nest is time that can’t be spent incubating the eggs or collecting food for the nestlings. Time is energy; and, birds make trade-offs–too much time spent looking for nest materials has been shown to limit reproductive successopen_in_new. The less time a bird spends looking for materials and building a nest, the more energy there is available to allocate to other stages of reproduction. By providing a safe location and an abundance of high quality building materials and locations you may be able to facilitate more successful nesting attempts.

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Photo © Robinsegg

Birds use a variety of materials to build a strong nest and hold it in place. You can help by putting out supportive materials like:

  • Piles of rigid and flexible sticks of different sizes
  • Pieces of native grape vine or Virginia Creeper
  • A collection of coconut fibers or horse hair
  • Mud in a bowl or create a small puddle nearby
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Photo © Christine Haines

Insulation is another very important feature in a well built nest. Heat loss due to wind and wet conditions will cool eggs in a nest during incubation recessesopen_in_new and the parent has to regenerate that heat upon return. You can put out a wide range of insulating materials that birds like to use:

  • Wool from sheep, goat, or alpaca, cotton batting, and animal fur
  • Grass, hay or straw, and leaf mulch can also be easily offered
  • Non-dyed Crafting Feathers are excellent and can be a favorite among Tree Swallowsopen_in_new
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Photo © jefflack Wildlife&Nature

For hiding the nest, deterring predatorsopen_in_new, and for decoration to help attract a mate, offer:

  • Pieces of lichen and moss
  • Snakeskins and spiderwebs
  • Green Materialopen_in_new such as pine needles or sprigs of herbs or shrubs
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Photo © Meredith O'Reilly

There are numerous ways to offer building materials. We do, however, encourage the use of natural materials to lessen the risk of entanglementopen_in_new in synthetic fibers like netting, twine, or fishing line. Avoid using animal fur that has been exposed to flea or tick treatments or dryer lint because it may contain harmful residues. Keeping all of this in mind when offering building materials will help the birds in your yard produce high-quality, safe, and secure nests.

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Photo © John Benson

And, finally, you’ll notice many of our images include nest boxes in the background. Some birds nest in trees and shrubs and are called “open cup” nesters, while others require use of a “cavity” to nest. Historically, these cavities were in dead trees, called snags, but people also provide nest boxes that meet this need as well. Check out our Learn Article detailing next boxes for more.

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