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Gardening for Birds | Nest Sites

Raising Young

Birds need places to engage in courtship behavior, mate, and then bear and raise their young.

Provide the Right Places:

  • Native trees
  • Meadows and prairies
  • Wetlands
  • Caves
  • Host plants for caterpillars
  • Dead trees or snags
  • Dense shrubs or thickets
  • Water gardens or ponds
  • Burrows
  • Nest boxes



Nest Materials

Nest building birds use a variety of materials. You can grow plants that offer the materials, or you can provide the materials themselves

Providing Nesting Materials:

  • Use Native Plants. Incorporate at least 70% native plants into your garden for birds to have the best success.
  • Twigs. Trees and shrubs with branches less than 4” long.
  • Fluff and Moss. Birds use mosses and lichens, fluff from cottonwoods, maples, willows, and other trees with catkins;
  • Mud. Swallows, swifts and robins favor mud as a nesting material.
  • Dry Grass. Songbirds from sparrows to robins often build with grasses.
  • Don’t use laundry dryer lint. It can soak up water and contain unhealthy chemicals.



Nest Boxes

Nest boxes encourage cavity nesting birds to move in to your yard.

Tips for Nest Box Success:

  • Right Bird, Right House. Different birds have different nesting needs. Check out Cornell Lab’s NestWatch Right Bird, Right House website for plans!
  • Quality Counts! Wood should be at least 5/8” thick, not treated with chemicals, and include drainage and ventilation holes.
  • The Right Place. Morning sun and afternoon shade is best. For safety, ensure clear flight path. Position box 6+ ft high.
  • Deter Predators. Don’t include perches, install predator blocks to entrances, and place metal flashing on roof.
  • Keep it Clean! Remove last year’s nesting materials as soon as spring birds head out.