Help Birds Build Their Nests
What birds need for nesting and how you can help
Birds might not need your help actually putting their nests together. (In fact, they'd prefer you keep your distance.) But you can still give them a hand—and you might even turn the birds who visit your feeders into more permanent neighbors.
For inspiration, have a look at these up-close images of birds building nests and caring for their young, captured by accomplished nature photographer and writer John Harrison, of Medford Wildlife Watch.
If birds see that your yard has what they need to nest, you may start seeing glimpses of bird family life, too. So, aside from nest boxes, what are birds looking for, and how can you get them to notice your offerings?
Some birds nest early, some late, and some make several nests each season, so offer nesting materials from early spring through summer. The following will all help make your yard seem nest-worthy:
- Dead trees and branches for cavity nesters (if they pose no hazard)
- Twigs (rigid for platform nests and flexible for cup-shaped nests)
- Mud (robins, in particular, love a mud puddle!)
- Dry grass and straw (not treated with chemicals)
- Horse hair (cut in 4-6” lengths)
- Pet fur (from animals not treated with flea or tick chemicals)
- Moss, bark strips, pine needles, dead leaves, and fluff or down of plants
- Snake skins (if you find one laying around, leave it for a bird to discover)
- Spider webs and caterpillar silk (stretchy binding material for nests)
Offer a few extras
Birds adapt to whatever's available, but you can also give them pieces of cloth (cut in strips about 1 inch by 6 inches), pieces of yarn or string (about 4 to 8 inches long), and sheep's wool.
…and two things not to offer:
Don't offer the birds your dryer lint (it crumbles, and it may contain harmful residues from detergents and fabric softeners) or any material that has come into contact with potentially harmful chemicals, such as household cleaners.
Create a cache
Birds are naturally observant, but it doesn't hurt to bundle up some tree and plant debris and leave it in nooks in your yard. Place materials that might blow around in small baskets, or fill suet cages or mesh bags with materials and hang them on a branch. Try pressing materials into tree bark crevices and draping yarn or string over branches, fence posts, or deck railings.
Make a safe haven
Backyards can be dangerous for birds, and especially so for fledglings. Here are a few ways to make them safer: