Nesting Material Dos and Don'ts

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

 Spring is finally in the air! Birds are singing their hearts out, hoping that a special someone (or someones for some birds) will choose them as their partner for nesting season. A couple species of backyard birds like Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals may have begun nest building already, and the rest will soon follow. Whether it's a cup nest, a woven basket-style nest, a nest within a cavity, or a loosely thrown together nest, they all require different nesting materials for construction. While birds don't necessarily need our help to find material to build their nests with, it is nice to give them a helping hand during this stressful period - plus, it gives us the benefit of being able to observe interesting nesting behaviours. As with all elements of backyard birding, we need to be sure what we're offering in our yards is safe for use in nest construction. 

Baltimore Oriole with WBU Nesting Material

In Ontario, nesting season begins in early spring (now!) through August, so it's not too late or too early to start offering nesting materials in your yard. You can offer the safe nesting materials listed below in neat piles on the ground, in trees, in open dishes, or in metal suet cages hung from trees or feeding stations, and preferably sheltered from the rain to help keep materials free from moisture and potentially mold. 


  • Natural nesting materials such as twigs, leaves, grasses, plant down like cattail or milkweed fluff, pine needles, strips of bark, moss, and feathers. These are the most commonly used materials by our native bird species. You can also help provide natural "fluff" by growing catkin-bearing native plants in your yard such as maples, poplars, and willows. 

  • Store-bought nesting material designed specifically for wild birds such as Wild Birds Unlimited Nest Building Material, or Hummer Helper Nesting Material. Both of these options are composed of all natural fibres that have not been treated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals.

  • Pet hair that has not been treated with any sort of chemicals. This includes flea & tick treatments (liquids, powders, collars, etc), shampoos, fragrance sprays, or any other type of skin or fur treatments. If you're unsure of what has been on your pets fur, forgo offering it to the birds.


  • Yarn, string, or any other long and stringy materials. Birds can easily become entangled in materials like these, leading to limb loss or death. Many of these items are also synthetic, which pollutes the environment once the nest disassembles. 

  • Plastic strips, cellophane, aluminum foil, tinsel, or any other synthetic materials. Like yarn or string, birds can get caught in these materials which can lead to fatalities, and they are synthetic materials that are just being released into the environment as harmful litter. 

  • Dryer lint. Though it may seem like a cozy material to line a nest with, dryer lint is full of toxic chemicals from detergents & microplastics shed from our clothing, and is extremely harmful to birds. Not only that, lint has a tendency to hold moisture leading to bacteria and mold growth.

  • Pet hair treated with chemicals such as the ones mentioned above (flea & tick treatments, shampoos, etc). Exposure to pesticides and other toxins can cause illness, birth defects, and even death. 

  • Human hair. Human hair should never be offered for the same reasons chemically-treated pet hair should be avoided. Human hair is also generally quite long and strong, and has the ability to wrap tightly around birds' legs, causing damage. 

Tree Swallow with feather to be used as nest liner

American Goldfinch with WBU Nesting Material

It's important to remember that just because birds will use certain items like plastic strips, dryer lint, or yarn to build their nests, doesn't mean they should be using those materials. They are resourceful animals and will use what is available to them to their advantage. We can help birds make safer choices by making natural materials more easily accessible during the nesting season. For more info on how you can help birds during nesting season, check out our blog 5 Ways You Can Help Nesting Birds

Happy trails!
- Shayna 

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