Helping out your nesting friends

There’s a lot to do come nesting season—eggs to keep warm, territory to defend, and the all-important task of preparing a nest that will last the distance. Here are some ways you can use your garden to make the job a little easier for our avian friends.

Usually when we talk about bird-friendly plants, we are targeting those that provide food or shelter. However there is another all important resource that birds look for—nesting materials. Birds use all sorts of different materials to construct their nests and their selection must serve a range of functions: to protect the eggs from potential predators, to take the weight of their parents on top of these eggs and to ensure they are insulated from external temperature fluctuations. To best protect their eggs, parents select nest materials from a range of sources, often using more than one type.

Choosing the right materials
Magpie-larks, Apostlebirds, White-winged Choughs and even Welcome Swallows are all mud-nesters—using sticky, oozy mud as the base material. When it hardens it results in a nest that is incredibly durable so it can be used again and again, year after year. But mud is not the only material that can be used to give a nest strength and structure. Willie Wagtails and many of our small honeyeaters like the Brown or Striped Honeyeater will use spider web to weave and shape their nests. The spiderweb makes terrific glue, allowing the nest to stretch as the chicks grow. So don’t discount the value of that dodgy old Camellia hiding in the back of the garden—it might be a gold mine of spiderweb for many of our smaller birds.

The plants in your garden can also provide a range of other materials that are fantastic in nests. See if you have some of these available, or can add them to your garden:

  • Native grasses: their long leaves can be broken off and are perfect for weaving
  • Rough barked trees and shrubs: birds will pull off strands and cart them off to the nest
  • Dead twigs, sticks and branches: don’t go crazy tidying up your yard. Leave these on the plants or make piles that birds can easily get to
  • Lawn clippings: mow the lawn and then leave the clippings to mulch
  • Moss or lichen: there’s no need to scrub rocks to clean them, as moss and lichen makes great nest lining
  • Fur: don’t empty your dog’s brush into the bin—scatter hair or fur out in the yard, drape it over shrubs or suspend it from a branch in a woven or mesh bag. Just be sure not to use fur that has been recently treated with flea treatments! Don't use hair from your hair brush though. Human hair is thin and strong. It can get tangled up and harm the adults and chicks.

Looking out for hollow-nesters
Hollow-nesting birds have a trickier job, constantly on the lookout for those elusive hollows, a rare commodity in the suburbs. If your garden doesn’t have any of the large, old trees needed to form hollows, you could think about installing a nest box instead. The key to this is to know the species of bird you want to attract so you can install the right box for it, at the correct height but within reaching distance, in case introduced species move in. You can research a range of nest box plans and tips for using them successfully here.


If you are lucky enough to find a bird building a nest in your yard this spring, or investigating a nest box, try to keep your distance. The building stage is when birds are most likely to abandon their nest and during the nesting process most birds can become highly stressed by intruders. Instead, work out a good vantage point from to watch or even consider a wildlife camera — you can watch birds build their home, from the comfort of your own!


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