How to Attract Birds to Your Yard with Nesting Material

Baby robins in a nest of soft grass

Baby robins in a nest of soft grass

Birds naturally build their nests on the best real estate, so any bird-friendly yard is likely to have an increase in activity come nesting time. If you enjoy helping the birds in your yard, try putting out some nesting material in the early spring for them to use.

You can buy packages of nesting material for birds, or better yet, make your own nesting material “ornaments” or baskets. Here’s how to supply nesting material safely to the birds in your yard.

What to Use for Bird Nesting Materials

Most common, cup-shaped bird nests are made primarily of woven grass and twigs, with a softer lining to keep the eggs and babies warm. Cavity nesting birds, such as woodpeckers, also look for soft materials to line their nests.

Some of the best nesting materials to supply to birds are:

  • Cloth Strips: Natural fibers – such as cotton, wool, jute, and burlap – make perfect bird nesting materials. Cut old fabric into pieces 3” to 6” long and no more than 1” wide. Longer pieces are too much for birds to handle and can even strangle them.
  • String and Ribbon: String, twine, ribbon, lace, and yarn make good nesting materials. Use natural fibers, and cut pieces no more than 3”- 6” long.
  • Small Yard Debris: Pine straw, wheat straw, and tiny twigs make good bird nest building materials.
  • Grass Clippings: One of the most common nesting materials, grass clippings can be gathered into balls or simply left mulched into your lawn.
  • Cotton batting nesting ball

    Cotton batting nesting ball

  • Animal Hair: If you brush or clip your animals, save the fur! It makes a wonderfully soft lining for bird nests. You can use human hair clippings, too. Just don’t use any hair or fur that’s been treated with chemicals, such as flea dips or insect repellents.
  • Cocoa Fiber: Recycle worn-out linings of hanging baskets for bird nesting material.
  • Plants and Seeds: Fluffy seeds and plants, such as cattails, make good bird nesting materials.
  • Cloth Batting: Wool or cotton batting cut into 3”- 6” strips makes good nesting material.
  • Feathers: Providing feathers for nesting material is a great way to recycle old down pillows!
  • Moss: Sphagnum or Spanish moss make great bird nesting materials.

What Not to Use for Bird Nesting Materials

Items to avoid for bird nesting materials include:

  • Dryer Lint: While dryer lint may seem like an ideal nesting material, it hardens and crumbles when it gets wet. Instead, use things more fibrous that the birds can weave together.
  • Synthetic Material: Even though birds will grab things like cellophane and plastic for their nest, avoid providing synthetic materials that can harm both the birds and the environment.
  • Synthetic String: Never provide fishing line or nylon twine as bird nesting material, since it can cause deadly tangles.
Suet cage filled with nesting material

Suet cage filled with nesting material

How to Put Out Bird Nesting Materials

Ways to provide nesting materials to birds in your yard include:

  • On Ground: The easiest way to provide nesting materials for birds is to scatter it on the ground, or put it in piles in sheltered areas where birds gather.
  • In Shrubs and Trees: You can also spread bird nesting materials on top of shrubs, in tree crevices, or in baskets.

  • Hanging Ornaments: If you prefer a less messy approach, stuff an empty wire suet bird feeder cage with nesting material and hang it from a tree or fence post. You can also use natural mesh bags, or make your own hangers out of wire. Nesting material ornaments can be artistic and make great gifts for the bird lovers in your life!

Other ways to make your yard more nest-friendly include:

  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn.
  • Avoid using chemicals on your lawn, garden, or house.
  • Leave some areas of your yard “natural,” with plenty of hiding places and fallen debris for nest building, and natural populations of insects and spiders. Some birds like to use mud and spider webs to plaster their nests.

Further Information


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13 Comments on “How to Attract Birds to Your Yard with Nesting Material”

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  • Julie Says:
    February 14th, 2018 at 8:13 am

    I guess I don’t understand why synthetic yarn and fabric are okay for our babies but not bird babies? Keeps us warm and dry, would keep them warm and dry, too

  • Mary Says:
    November 12th, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    @ Kathy I’d not use the ribbons. Cotton balls should be okay if actually cotton since it is a natural material. Towels would be okay but only if 100% cotton or other natural material(not sure what others there are though maybe hemp), and cut into short thin strips to help avoid entanglement.

    I do wish they had not put ribbons and yarn etc on their list, even though they added to use only natural most people wont pay attention to that. I would also make them shorter really no more than 2-3″ to be sure not to cause tangles around their thin legs.

  • Janet mcgeein Says:
    March 18th, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    When do we put out the nesting material?

  • Kathy Says:
    March 8th, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Cotton balls, strips of bath towels and ribbons etc….a small basket….are those good bird nesting gifts?

  • heather mugford Says:
    February 23rd, 2017 at 10:15 am

    What month do you put nesting materials out in ontario?

  • Katie Nault Says:
    April 3rd, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Is Pete moss ok?

  • Joan Says:
    March 1st, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Wool and cotton retain water and can chill nestlings or become moldy;batting, yarn, cloth strips etc. If you’ve ever worn wool mittens while sledding, or a cotton shirt in hot weather, you know how soggy they get! Also, l don’t know if it’s still done but baling twine came treated with poison to keep rats from chewing it.

  • Addison.maddison Says:
    February 14th, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    The wire spine from notebooks is not the intended nesting material. Rather, the coiled spine is used to hold material in place … similar to a mesh holder or suet holder.

  • Claudia Says:
    February 9th, 2016 at 9:50 am

    When should I start putting pet hair out for the birds for nest building?

  • Zanna Says:
    August 24th, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    @Mari Vega (in case you ever check this again, or others who read this): Thank you for trying to help the birds! But please, PLEASE remove the lint handfuls around the yard! Birds will use them, and they’ll make a nest fall apart (at the very least, they’ll provide no insulation).

    Also, the wire from a notebook is dangerous for birds! Try to think like a bird–soft materials that won’t poke any delicate eyes or nestlings, won’t be dangerous for the bird to work with, and easy and lightweight to transport to the nest site.

    Remember that birds are working with only their beaks and claws, and something stiff and unpredictable like wire is a recipe for injury. Thanks again for thinking of our feathered friends.

  • Rita Rowe Says:
    July 14th, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Thank you so much for this very informative information

  • Wendie Karpinski Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Why do birds leave long pieces of string or plant stems hanging from the bottom of their nests? My mother told me the birds did this to determine wind direction when the parent birds returned to the nest.

  • Mari Vega Says:
    May 8th, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I may go remove the handfuls of lint left around the yard. Actually- I placed these inside of small dark baskets hung along our fence as emergency nests for any bird that might need a stopping place when the weather suddenly turns cold as it has a few times this Spring here in North Texas. I am now inspired by this article to make use of salvaged coils from used-up school notebooks and turn them into nesting material wreaths. Think they’ll make nice mother’s day gifts. Thanks!

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How to Attract Birds to Your Yard with Nesting Material