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What Do Birds Use to Build Their Nests? (Examples)

Bird nests are important and they need to be safe. Birds use nests to protect and incubate their eggs as well as raise their newborn chicks. Not only do they have to shelter their young from predators, but also various weather conditions. So, to make their homes secure, what do birds use to build their nests? Different bird species design their nests differently and use a range of materials to build. Read on to learn more about the various materials different species use, including what not to leave out for birds.

What do birds use to build their nests?

Birds build different types of nests using various materials. The nests can be cup-shaped, domes, floating nests, pendulums, or basket-shaped nests. Some species use multiple materials for different nest layers, from the base to the sides. The most common materials birds will use to build nests include:

  • Sticks and twigs
  • Dead leaves
  • Bark strips
  • Feathers
  • Dry grass
  • Plant fluff
  • Pine needles
  • Bark strips
  • Mud
  • Moss
  • Straw

Some birds, such as the great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus), sometimes use snakeskin for their nests. They will weave it into the sides and leave a piece in the nest to deter squirrels from entering the nests. Small birds, such as hummingbirds (Trochilidae) will use spider silk because it’s stretchy, sticky, and tough.

What birds use twigs for nests?

Most birds will use twigs to create a structure for the nest and add other layers of materials. For example, house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) use twigs to make a bed foundation and use twigs as a barrier between tree cavity entrances and their nest. They will use softer materials such as grass and feathers to create the cup-like nest they build into the twig layer’s depression.

Northern cardinal nest | image: Raeven via Flickr

Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) also use twigs to shape the cup of their nests. Their cup has four layers: twigs, a leafy mat, grapevine bark, and a final layer of stems, grasses, and pine needles.

What bird uses moss for nests?

Chickadees (Paridae) mostly use moss to build the foundation of the cup shape of their nest. They will then line the cup with soft materials, such as rabbit fur. Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) also line the outside of their cup-like nests with moss.

What bird uses bark strips for nests?

Two bird species that use bark strips for nest building are ​​robins (Turdus migratorius) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Robins use mud as the foundation of their cup-like nests and will layer the exterior with bark, twigs, and leaves. Red-eyed vireos build hanging cups made from a structure of birch bark and wasp paper.

What bird uses mud for nests?

Besides robins, other birds that typically use mud to construct the foundations of their nest are barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), and phoebes (Sayornis phoebe).

What bird uses artificial fibers for nests?

Male Baltimore oriole | image by synspectrum via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) build unique hanging nests that look like socks. They weave together slender fibers, including artificial fibers. These materials include strips of grapevine bark, wool, horsehair, twine, fishing lines, and cellophane. First, the female weaves the outer bowl of the nest, then the inner bowl, and finally, she will put soft lining, such as feathers inside, to cushion the eggs.

Where do you hang nesting materials?

If you want to leave out nesting materials for birds, there are different ways you can do this. You can create mud pools for birds that use mud by watering a mound of loose dirt. For other materials, you can:

  • Pile them on the ground
  • Put them in mesh bags hung on fence posts or tree trunks
  • Drape them over vegetation
  • Place them in open-top berry baskets
  • Push them in tree crevices

Should you put nesting material in a birdhouse?

No, you shouldn’t. It’s best to keep the birdhouse clear of nesting materials since you don’t know what type of bird will be building a nest. Every species uses different materials, so you will be giving the birds more work if they have to remove the materials they don’t want from the birdhouse.

What materials are bad for bird nests?

While some things may seem like they could be useful for a bird to use to build their nest, they aren’t for most species. You want to avoid putting out:

  • Tinsel
  • Plastic stips
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cellophane
  • Dryer lint

Although dryer lint can seem like good nesting material, it soaks up water and can have unhealthy chemicals, such as any remaining softener or detergents. In contrast, you can put out dog fur or sheep fur. Animal fibers are durable and don’t soak up water as much.

Is cotton safe for birds?

Not really. You should avoid cotton as “fluff” for birds to use for their nests. Cotton is typically synthetically made and can have unsafe toxins for birds. However, you could put out natural fibers such as raw cotton, wool, or hemp. Make sure the lengths aren’t long if you are putting out string or twine since they can tangle and injure the birds. Its best to put out 1-inch wide strips that are under 6 inches long.


Different bird species use different materials to build their nests. Some even use snakeskin or spider silk. However, the most common materials are dead leaves or grass, twigs, plant fluff, and straw. While you can put out nesting materials for birds to pick up, make sure they are safe and appropriate, such as natural materials that don’t have toxins.