Bird Nesting Help- Encouraging birds to Stick around

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.

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, human, horse
  • Chipping Sparrows- prefer hair, pet, human, horse
  • Cliff Swallows– prefer mud
  • Eastern Kingbirds prefer short strips of rags
  • Eastern phoebes– prefer mud
  • Flycatchers– prefer hair, pet, human, horse
  • Loggerhead Shrikes– prefer hair, pet, human, horse
  • Nuthatches– prefer hair, pet, human, horse
  • Orioles prefer frayed twine, yarn
  • Pine Siskins– prefer hair, pet, human, horse
  • Pine Warblers– prefer hair, pet, human, 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

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.


Birds are natural gatherers and will literally use just about anything they can find including feathers of other birds, snakeskins, twigs, leaves, grasses, 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
  • 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, 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!

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.

Scientific Sources that Recommend Providing Nesting Materials:

Ornithology Department CornellLab: All about Nesting

National Wildlife Federation: Recycling IS for the Birds!

Bird Watchers Digest: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)

National Wildlife Federation: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)

Mass Audubon Society: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces) (Page 14, specifically)

New York Audubon Society: Do Recommend providing fibers, string, yarn and hair (cut to 2″ pieces)

Conservation Evidence:

Image Credit: HGTV.Com

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About Liss 4191 Articles
Melissa Burnell, known to her friends and fans as "Liss," grew up in Southern Maine, now residing in sunny South Carolina. As a busy Wife, Mother of two sons, an avid photographer, and self-employed entrepreneur, Liss understands the value of both time and money.

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