Most people work hard to make their New Zealand backyards nice and tidy. We rake up the dead leaves, spray for spiders, and cut down all the long grass. Unfortunately in our quest for a tidy yard we are depriving the wild birds of the precise materials they need to build their nests.
Part of the secret in attracting birds to your backyard is providing all the necessities of life that they find in the wild. If you provide nesting boxes the birds you are feeding will stay and nest but for this to happen they also need the materials to build a nest in those boxes.
This nesting material is extremely important to the birds because it serves several purposes.
- It insulates the eggs, protecting them from sudden temperature changes
- It cushions the eggs and stops them breaking under the parents weight
- Protects the eggs from the elements
- Camouflages and hides the eggs from predators
- Keeps the eggs together for greater heat efficiency
It is interesting to look at an old bird nest to see exactly what goes into their construction. The answer is just about anything the parent birds can find, they will use all sorts of twigs, string, wool, dry grass, moss, pine needles, and leaves. If you look around your yard you will probably find that you have done a good job of removing all these items and throwing them out with the rubbish or putting them in the sealed compost bin that the birds cant get too.
The solution to this problem is that we now have to provide a stash of nesting materials to help the birds. Although different bird species use different nest building materials depending on the size and shape of the nest, its location etc, almost all New Zealand wild birds will find use for the materials in the list below.
- Twigs or sticks
- Dead leaves
- Grass clippings or dead grass
- Yarn, string or thread
- Human hair or animal fur
- Moss or lichen
- Pine needles
- Pebbles or small rocks
- Spider web silk
- Straw or other plant stems
- Shredded paper
- Cotton balls
While some of these materials are available naturally in the birds' environments, most are missing from the modern NZ backyard.
With a little bit of effort you can collect all the materials the birds need and make them available in your backyard. This benefits you by making it more likely that the birds will nest in your backyard, and the benefit to the birds is that they don't have to expend so much time and energy searching for the materials they require.
There are several ways to offer nesting material to the birds.
- Drape material over trees or shrubs near birdfeeders or sheltered spots where birds may build nests.
- Use a suet feeder and fill it with nesting material. Hang this arrangement in a visible area where birds will notice it
- A kitchen whisk makes an ideal holder
as seen in the photo above.
- Place the nesting material in small piles in sheltered, and dry places though out your garden
- Fill a mesh bag or basket loosely with suitable nesting material. Be sure the mesh is wide enough for birds to extract the material, and hang it in a visible location.
For the best results, try putting out
different types of nesting material in several different ways to appeal to
different birds. Make sure that your nesting material is suitable and wont harm the birds in any way.
- Never put out fluff from the dryer. Although this looks like ideal nesting material, many fabrics contain chemicals that are poisonous to birds
- Avoid any material that has been treated with pesticides, fertilizers or other potentially toxic chemicals. This includes grass that has been sprayed with weed killer, and pet hair that has been treated with anti flea chemicals.
- Do not put out any nylon or plastic material as both can be deadly to birds.
- Any string or other threads should be no longer than 150mm. Longer lengths can strangle both adult birds and chicks