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Home » Whisk Whimsy: Nesting Materials for Backyard Birds

Whisk Whimsy: Nesting Materials for Backyard Birds

whisk artwork by j. wyzykowski

Spring is in the air and backyard birds are busy gathering nesting materials.  This week, we’ll craft a bit of sweet outdoor whimsy that will offer up a variety of safe building supplies for our feathered friends.  But, before we are whisked away, I would like to extend heart-felt thanks to artist, Jen Wyzykowski, for providing the lovely illustration for this week’s post.  She captured my idea beautifully –  If you enjoy her work as much as I do, feel free to visit her at:  or follow her on Instagram @jenwyz_art.

An Idea “Springs” up!

Many of my ideas are formulated while doing chores at the barn and this one is no different.  The change of season to spring weather has my horse shedding out his winter coat; and I’m spending a good deal of time brushing him out and discarding the hair.  On a recent Saturday afternoon, my horse and I were enjoying the sunshine; the birds were singing, and I was removing silky belly hair with my soft grooming brush.  It occurred to me that the songbirds providing our afternoon soundtrack might appreciate the addition of some downy belly fur in their nests.  This led to an evening of research on safe nesting materials as well as creative ways to gather up and offer nest building supplies.  I am a stickler for obtaining knowledge from reputable resources.  For this project, I found Audubon, National Wildlife Federation and to be informative and helpful.
horse hair and grooming brush

Nesting Materials You Can Provide Backyard Birds

I should begin by saying that birds will naturally gather their own materials without any help from us at all.  Depending on the species, they build a variety of structures that can resemble anything from tiny hanging tote bags, to bristling cups, to mud pellet sacks, or large stick bowls just to name a few.  Even if you provide a bird house on your site, they will build a nest inside.  
Safe Nesting Materials Birds Naturally Select
  • twigs (under 4″)
  • leaves
  • stems
  • fluffy down (milkweed)
  • moss
  • mud
  • dried grass
  • straw
  • natural fibers (wool, cotton, hemp, sisal)
  • shed snake skin
  • animal fur
  • feathers
  • lichen
  • rootlets
bird nest in evergreen
barn swallows in mud nest
Materials You Should Avoid
  • yarn or string (can entangle birds and their young)
  • human hair
  • horse mane and tail hair
  • dryer lint (soaks up water, is steeped in chemicals, crumbles in the nest and leaves holes)
  • synthetics and plastics
* A note about pet hair:  Because it was horsehair that inspired me to look into nest building materials, I feel I should clarify on the use of animal fur.  Birds will naturally collect dog, sheep, goat and horsehair for nesting purposes.  Unlike dryer lint, animal fur does not damage a nest by collecting or holding onto water.  It is important to remember, however, that pet hair should be kept to no longer than an inch.  This will prevent entanglements in the nest.  Also, avoid pet hair that has been coated with flea dip or insect repellents.

Making A Whisk Cage for Nesting Materials

If you have an old whisk in the kitchen that you would like to replace, this is a good repurpose option for it.  I found the two I used for this project on a sale table at the grocery store.  The total came in under five dollars.

Wrapping the Handle

I chose to wrap the handles with twine for a more rustic look and to provide birds with a surface they could grasp while pulling nesting materials from the whisk’s cage.  Simply thread the twine through the hole in the handle, wrap to the bottom of the handle and tie it off.

twine threaded through whisk handle
twine wrapped around whisk handle
twine wrapped around two whisk handles
Gathering Materials

Now for the fun part, foraging!  I gathered all the nesting materials I used from my backyard and surrounding wood line.  I was able collect a nice assortment of materials from the recommended list above.  Aside from the horsehair I saved from my grooming session, I gathered moss, lichen, dried grass, twigs and stems.  I was also able to salvage a milkweed pod and turkey feather from a floral arrangement I had put together last fall and set aside.

lichen moss and twigs on parchment paper
natural nest building materials

Filling the Whisk Cage

You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in a whisk cage.  I used everything I gathered without a problem.  You cannot do this wrong; enjoy the process and shape your whisk however you’d like.  You can let some items, like rootlets, trail out the bottom or pieces of dried grass wrap around the top.  Just have fun and be creative!

whisk filled with nesting materials
two whisks filled with nesting materials

Hang Outdoors

I chose to add twine loops at the top of each whisk so they could hang from iron hooks outdoors.  Seasonally, I use iron shepherd’s hooks for supporting hanging plants or bird feeders. Nesting materials are a good use for them now as it is too cool to set out hanging plants and bird feeders will attract black bear coming out of hibernation.  Having the whisks on hooks outdoors still attracts birds for viewing, but they can easily be brought in when it rains.  Bringing whisks in during inclement weather keeps the nesting materials from packing down and becoming soggy.

twine loops on whisks filled with nesting materials
whisk hung outdoors with nesting material for birds

I hope you enjoyed this sweet, little craft project that benefits backyard birds during nesting season.  It is an easy-to-do activity with children and grandchildren; providing an opportunity to learn about local wildlife, forage for materials and make something that gives back.


You may also be interested in these links:

Bird Suet – No Lard

Jennifer Wyzykowski


whisk with nesting materials hung outdoors
ink bird rendering

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