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 ncascades.org/get_outside, email nci@ncascades.org, 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 songandword@rockisland.com.

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