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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Birds prefer finding natural nest material


Spring is when most birds build nests and lay eggs. If given a choice, birds choose to build nests with naturally found materials from native plants. They especially love the remains of tall, native grasses (unglamorously called "debris"). Some good ones for here are Bluestem, Indiangrass, Muhly, Sea Oats and Gramma (we have several native grasses in our landscape, the majority being Inland Sea Oats – birds love it!)
Pieces of yarn or thread are popular with birds. Just make sure that no piece is longer than 3-inches. Any longer and there's a risk they can get it tangled in their legs or around their bodies.
       The materials that birds use for nest-building can be almost anything that’s somewhat small, stringy and lightweight. Also, many nests are cemented together with mud, so it’s good to have water and/or mud nearby. (It doesn’t have to be very conspicuous, or even in your own yard – birds will find it!)  A bird might make over a thousand trips with beaks-full of mud, twigs, grasses, leaves or whatever, at the start of nesting season.

Two of the most used natural materials are cotton and feathers. Often these are used to fill, blankets, pillows, jackets etc. If you have an old, worn-out one of these taking up space, rip it a little and leave it outside. Birds will find this "gold mine".
        Another natural material birds love is fur. When we comb our dogs we’ll save the fur. Then we put it in something like an old wire suet basket, hanging it from a branch. We’ll see all kinds of birds pull out strands of fur to take to their nearby nests. Later, if we’re lucky enough to spot a nest, we’ll carefully inspect it and may find several tiny bird eggs nestled in our pets’ fur. Nice!

At first glance, used drier lint or drier sheets look fine as nest material. Avoid them however. Many laundry detergents contain stuff that's harmful to baby birds, so dispose of them some other way.
There are, clearly, lots of materials that can become nest ingredients. The key is to let them find it - just place it where they might be.

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.