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Bird's nest on a tree

Putting Out Wild Bird Nesting Materials for Backyard Birds

Spring is a great time for anyone who wants to see some adorable birds. It's the time when they return to your neighborhood from their winter homes down south and start building nests and raising their babies. Most people know that a great way to attract more birds to your yard is to put out birdseed, but you can also help out your local birds by putting out nesting materials for them. Here's a quick how-to on providing nesting materials for your neighborhood birds.

Best Nesting Materials To Consider

Birds use plant materials to make their nests, but you'd be surprised at the things they like to use to make cozy homes for their chicks.

Bird on a wire carrying nesting material

  • Hair: Collect the shed hair after you brush your pets. Hair is a favorite nesting material, but just be sure you don't use hair that has been recently treated with flea and tick spray. Also, a quick note to avoid giving human hair as this, unlike pet hair, can tangle itself around baby birds and potentially harm them.

  • Shredded paper: Before you recycle all of your shredded paper, take some of it from the shredder and put it out for the birds.

  • Strips of cloth: Getting rid of some old t-shirts? Cut them up into strips and leave them out for the birds to gather. Use natural fibers like cotton, and cut the strips an inch wide and no more than 6 inches long.

  • Plant materials: Your spring cleanup in the yard can create some great nesting supplies. Birds like small twigs, dried grass clippings and leaves, moss, and soft materials like cottonwood and milkweed fluff.

Nesting Materials To Avoid

While it can be tempting to put out just about anything for backyard birds, there are some materials that you should avoid in order to keep them safe.

Depending on the type of bird, some materials may be too hard for them to work with, and some may even be toxic or cause an injury.

Here are a few materials that you should avoid when putting out nesting materials:

  • Wire: Wire is not something birds are able to use when building their nests and can cause injury or even death.

  • Plastic Thread, Yarn, or String: While it may seem like plastic thread or string wouldn't hurt your feathered friends, it can become tangled within the twigs and sticks they use when building the nest, leading to strangulation for young chicks or adult birds.

  • Synthetic Fabrics: Fabrics like polyester and nylon are often produced with harmful chemicals and dyes that could potentially harm birds if they were exposed to them.

  • Moldy Materials: Moldy hay can also be a problem since mold spores can cause serious respiratory problems in birds, so make sure the nesting material you put out is fresh and dry.

  • Other man-made materials: Dryer lint, aluminum foil, cellophane, and tinsel are all chemically-treated materials that can pose harm to our feathered friends. It's best to stick to more natural nesting resources.

Feeder Options For Bird Nesting Materials

Now that you're convinced that covering your backyard with nesting materials is a great way to help birds, it's time to start thinking about what feeders to use. Ideally, your nesting materials should have one of the following feeders:

  • Hopper: A hopper will store the materials, such as straw, wool, fur, and dried plants. It's great for keeping the materials dry and safe from the elements.

  • Platform: A platform is a flat tray that holds the materials in place. It's perfect for larger birds who like to perch while they gather their supplies.

  • Hanging Basket: Similar to a platform feeder but hung up or suspended from a tree branch or pole. This is handy if there isn't enough space on the ground for a platform, and it's also good for smaller birds who prefer their nests closer to the ground.

No matter which type of feeder you choose, make sure it has enough space for multiple birds and that you'll place it somewhere that's easily accessible for the birds. You would want them accidentally crashing into your window! Plus: don't forget to check and refill on a regular basis; after all, you want your feathered friends well-equipped for springtime nesting!

Common Mistakes

Eastern bluebird carrying nesting material

When it comes to attracting birds with nesting materials, there are some common mistakes you want to avoid.


The first mistake is supplying too many of the same materials for nesting. If you put out a surplus of straw, for example, birds won't be able to use it all, and rodents will have an extra incentive to move in.

Unsuitable Materials

Next, make sure that the materials you're putting out are actually suitable for birds. Wood shavings are sadly not a great option as they are often treated with insecticides that can hurt birds if ingested. It's best to stick with natural materials like twigs or hay to keep an eco-friendly backyard ecosystem.

No Variety

Finally, don't forget to give your feathered friends some variety! Different bird species prefer different nest materials, so having a mix of different textures is ideal for promoting bird diversity in your backyard habitat.

Interested in learning more? Check out the information on the websites of the National Wildlife Federation, The Spruce, and All About Birds for lots of great tips!

Wild Bird Nesting Materials FAQ

Where to buy nesting material?

Most major home improvement and pet stores will have bird-certified materials for nesting, often in small packages labeled for single use. If you can't find it in your local shop, a quick online search will point you in the right direction.

Do birds reuse their nests?

It depends on the bird's species. However, most of the time, birds don't reuse old nests regardless of whether they're still clean or usable. Birds, especially ones you can find in your backyard, typically build a new nest for each of their clutches.

Should I provide materials for nesting to wild backyard birds?

Yes, absolutely! You can offer birds a helping hand by giving them the source materials they need to build the structures they call home. Just make sure to do some research on what materials you can put out and how to do it properly!

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Judy - November 23, 2023

According to the audubon society strings of yarn and human hair is dangerous for bird nesting material. Hair of your pets and humans have traces of shamboo, etc. on them and also any medicine like flea for domestic pets. Strings of yarn can get wrapped around the feet of baby birds. I was trying to find out if I could put out 100% virgin wool for nesting material and came across that interesting article.

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