Gardening ~ Landscaping » Bird Nesting Help- Encouraging birds to Stick around

Bird Nesting Help- Encouraging birds to Stick around

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We love to watch the birds flock to our house every year, some return year after year to have their babies in the same nest box. Each year we provide several different types of nesting materials to help them get prepared…

In addition to providing various sources of nesting material, it’s a great idea to offer a water source as well. This encourages the birds to stick around, providing you with free pest control as they consume a vast variety of pesky bugs.

chickadees cattail fluff

Bird Nesting Help- Encouraging birds to Stick around

Which Birds Like What?

You can attract different birds using different nesting materials:

  • American robins– appreciate mud (the soil should be stone free, high clay content) which incidentally will also attract butterflies
  • Barn Swallows prefer mud
  • Catbirds prefer small squares of fabric (2″)
  • Cedar Waxwings prefer short strips of rags
  • Chickadees– prefer hair (pet, not human or horse), cattail fluff
  • Chipping Sparrows- prefer hair (pet, not human or horse)
  • Cliff Swallows– prefer mud
  • Eastern Kingbirds prefer short strips of rags
  • Eastern phoebes– prefer mud
  • Flycatchers– prefer hair (pet, not human or horse)
  • Loggerhead Shrikes– prefer hair, (pet, not human or horse)
  • Nuthatches– prefer hair, (pet, not human or horse)
  • Orioles prefer frayed twine, yarn
  • Pine Siskins– prefer hair, (pet, not human or horse)
  • Pine Warblers– prefer hair (pet, not human or horse)
  • Purple Martins– prefer mud
  • Robins prefer small squares of fabric (2″)
  • Tree swallows prefer feathers (& will fight over them!)
  • Violet Green Swallows prefer feathers
  • Vireos prefer small squares of fabric (2″)
  • Wood Thrushes – prefer mud
  • Yellow Warblers prefer cotton (or milkweed fluff)

If you raise chickens, this is a great use of the light feathers they tend to shed several times per year. If you’re using pet hair that you’ve brushed from your pet, please be sure that your pet isn’t treated with flea/tick or other pesticide chemicals. If so, don’t use the fur.

Ways to Provide Nesting Materials:

  • in small piles on the ground (such as leaves and twigs)
  • in clean wire-mesh suet cages, mesh bags hung on tree branches, fence posts, or railings (as pictured below)
  • pushed into tree crevices
  • draped over shrubs
  • in open-topped berry baskets or plant hangers
  • nesting hangers
  • Mud can be offered in a shallow pan, we’ve found the round cake pans from the dollar store to be a perfect container.
A Prime Example of What NOT to Use!

Birds are natural gatherers and will literally use just about anything they can find including feathers of other birds, snakeskins, twigs, leaves, grasses, mud, etc. Here are some common items that you can put out to help them:

  • Dead twigs
  • Dead leaves
  • Dry grass
  • Fur (e.g. dog or cat fur)
  • Feathers
  • Plant fluff or down (e.g. cattail fluff, cottonwood down)
  • Kapok, cotton batting, or other stuffing material
  • Moss
  • Mud
  • Bark strips
  • Pine needles
  • Thin strips of cloth, about 1/2- 1 inch wide by 4- 6 inches long
  • Shredded paper

While it is possible to use dryer lint, it must be 100% all-natural, with no chemical detergent residues or fabric softeners as the residues in these can cause the nest to dry out and become brittle, rough, or even draw moisture away from the eggs, preventing them from hatching.

So, if you make your own laundry soap, chances are it’s safe to use the dryer lint, if you buy laundry soap from the store, probably best to skip it entirely!

bird nesting materials feathers

Nesting Materials to Avoid

The following items, although previously recommended by bird experts at are no longer recommended due to the potential for entanglement in feet or wings:

  • Yarn or string (of any type/kind)
  • Human or animal hair (especially horse hair)
  • Sheep’s wool (which can become stringy and cause entanglement)
  • Dental floss
  • Twine from Hay/straw bales, etc


Image Credit The Rescue Report

The above list of materials is recommended by Ornithologists (bird experts) at Cornell and you can read more on their site about natural nesting materials.

mud nesting material

Scientific Sources that Recommend Providing Nesting Materials:

  1. Ornithology Department CornellLab: All about Nesting
  2. National Wildlife Federation: Recycling IS for the Birds!
  3. Bird Watchers Digest: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)
  4. National Wildlife Federation: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)
  5. Mass Audubon Society: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces) (Page 14, specifically)
  6. New York Audubon Society: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)
  7. Conservation Evidence:
  8. Image Credit: HGTV.Com

attract birds with nesting materials

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5 thoughts on “Bird Nesting Help- Encouraging birds to Stick around”

    • Thank you for your comment. This is why additional links were provided at the bottom, many birds DO PREFER to use Hair, including horse hair and human hair. We’ve raised horses for years and the birds will literally sit on the horses and steal their mane hair.

      Many of the birding resources listed agree that the species listed prefer hair over other materials, hence the inclusion. We shared the entanglement photo and information to give people an educated view of both sides so they can make an informed decision on their own.

  1. If yarn is no longer recommended, I would say the initial image of yarn in a container is unsuitable. Many people don’t read articles in depth to find out. I’d say the image needs a big red cross over it, to get the message across.

  2. Here are 9 Proven Tips to Attract Nesting Birds
    1 Provide several types of birdhouses
    2 Select Birdhouses That Attract Multiple Species
    3 Encourage Friendly Nesting Neighbors
    4 Hang several Baskets
    5 Add a Birdbath & plant several varieties of berry bushes (raspberries, blackberries, mulberry, blueberries etc)
    6 Consider birdhouse gourds
    7 Ensure nest boxes are clean
    8 Secure nest boxes to trees
    9 Provide a Variety of Nesting Materials

  3. Nest boxes on trees might not be so good; we have snakes that will climb up to get the eggs or baby birds. We’ve even had them get to the bluebird houses mounted on posts; with barbed wire around the post.


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