Now is a good time to set out nesting materials for birds

Birds can be very specific about nest materials: the Australian malleefowl creates a nest out of bird compost; the Southeast Asian edible-nest swiftlets use layers of its own spit; and the Central America Montezuma oropendola weaves with vines and banana fibers.

Others use whatever’s handy: ejected pellets, lichen, bark, twigs, feathers, down, spider webs, snake skins (without the snake), shells, mud, grass clippings (another reason for not using chemicals on your lawn), straw, leaves, leaf mold and cellulose, the main mass of plant fibers.

They’ve also been known to appropriate items from humans. Birdwatchers have reported nests that include aluminum foil and cigarette butts. Researchers know that cellulose acetate, an ingredient in cigarettes, discourages parasites.

Reader and birdwatcher Nancy McGill had a question about nesting material.

“I am a knitter, and have lots of ends of yarn. Some is acrylic, some wool, some blends with nylon or other materials. Are these suitable for the birds to use to build their nests? I have heard both yes, as long as they are less than 2 inches, and no, never. If they are OK, when would I want to put them out?”

Out of habit, I said yes (2-4 inches), and now would be a good time.

But I stand corrected by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, which long approved yarn, fabric scraps and pet fur but no longer does so. There is some evidence from wildlife rehabilitators that birds’ feet can become entangled in them.

These items have the Cornell stamp of approval: dead twigs, dry grass, feathers, cattail fluff or cottonwood down, moss, bark strips and pine needles.

Cornell nixes plastic strips, tinsel, cellophane, aluminum foil, fishing line and dryer lint (it hardens and crumbles).

There are many ways to display your offerings, including in piles on the ground (works well for leaves and twigs); in clean wire-mesh suet cages or in mesh bags hung on tree trunks, fence posts, or railings; pushed into tree crevices, draped over vegetation and in small baskets.

Audubon even sells a bird nesting cage with nesting materials.

Hummers. In February of last year Dawn Capers, of Lake Stevens, had a nesting treat.

“We had the great fortune of having a hummingbird build her nest and lay her eggs close to our back French doors that lead to the covered patio area. She did choose a location above our heads and away from wind and rain (on the top of a bird wind chime).

“It was fascinating to watch the whole life cycle and so close up, really a ‘bird’s-eye view.’ No sign of her coming back to the nest this year, which I suppose is typical. It was a wonderful experience though. Nature can be wonderful!”

Yes, it can.

Live and learn. North Cascades Institute has another lineup. Adventures include harvesting and cuisine of Salish Seaweed garden, spring snake search in the Methow Valley, night photography at Washington Pass, watercolors with Michelle Cooper and Mount Baker geology.

For information and registration, go to, email, or call 360-854-2599.

Heads up, hikers. The North Fork Skykomish Road 53 remains closed. That affects access to Blanca Lake Trail 1052, Blanca Lake trailhead, North Fork Skykomish Trail 1051, North Fork Skykomish trailhead, Quartz Creek Trail 1050 and West Cady Ridge Trail 1051.

Road 63 closure starts at the junction with Road 65 to the North Fork trailhead complex due to storm damage and will be closed until June 2018.

If you want to reach the trails affected by this closure, a temporary trailhead with parking has been created. This closure adds 2 miles for hikers going to the Blanca Lake Trail, and 4 miles to North Fork Skykomish, West Cady and Quartz Creek trails.

Do not block the road when parking.

For information, call the Skykomish Ranger District, 360-677-2414.

Changes. Just a reminder that this column will run the first and third Sundays of every month.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

Talk to us

More in Life

Sugar beets with fresh leaves in the garden. The Red Veined Leaves of Beetroot (Beta vulgaris).
Love it or leave it: The gardener’s to-do list for August

If you do this month’s chores, you’ll no longer be referred to as a “yardener,” or a casual gardener.

The 13-inch-high antique wooden San Rafael figure with wings and holding a staff and a fish sold at a Cottone auction for $9,600. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Wooden figure of San Rafael the Archangel made circa 1763

Fra Andreas Garcia, an 18th-century Mexican Franciscan friar and folk artist, carved and painted the figurine.

"Blackadder" hummingbird mint features flower spikes of dark red-purple peppered with tiny mauve blooms. (Rick Peterson)
Great Plant Pick: Agastache ‘Blackadder,’ giant hyssop, hummingbird mint

The highlight of this clumping perennial are the flower spikes of dark red-purple peppered with tiny mauve blooms.

Everett indie rockers Moondoggies will perform for A Dick's Drive-In Summer Series at Wetmore Theatre Plaza on Aug. 6. (Jason Neuerburg)
Get ready to rock ‘n’ roll outdoors in Everett this August

The events Music at the Marina and Dicks Drive-In Summer Series have eight outdoor shows set through August between the two of them.

This year’s Quilts on the Beach is scheduled for July 31 at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. (Cama Beach Quilters)
Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

Hamilton-Beachbum Zombie served at Latitude 29 in New Orleans — and now your own home bar. (Randy Schmidt)
He cracked the Zombie code. Now he has his own Zombie rum

A new spirit from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is here to reanimate your tiki cocktails.

Bright beautiful background of ripe fruits. Organic healthy food.
On Nutrition: Fructose: The simple sugar with a bad reputation

You shouldn’t fear fructose, which is found naturally in fruit. But you should reduce or limit added sugars.

What do ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ digestion look like in the loo?

There are many benefits of balanced digestion and many risks associated with imbalanced digestion.

Ask a Pediatrician: How high should SPF of kids’ sunscreen be?

The broad-spectrum sunscreen, which will screen out both UVB and UVA rays, should have a sun protection factor of at least 30.

Most Read