Country and Coast: Can we help our garden birds to feather their nests?

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Many of us provide food for garden birds especially during the winter but do we also offer nesting materials?

When we kept hens, their nest boxes were dry, cosy and clean with fresh hay, but how would we approach the idea of similar assistance for wild birds?

Just as they are remarkably efficient at finding food, so they are equally skilled at locating nesting materials.

Different birds require greatly differing materials and I was reminded of this when I discovered a large pile of feathers in our garden.

They had come very recently from a wood pigeon that appeared to have had an exciting time with a fox.

I think he made his escape despite a loss of dignity – there was no sign of blood or other remains.

Because the weather was dry with no wind, I left the feathers in situ because I felt sure that birds would make use of them for nests. I am sure some feathers disappeared very quickly, although the remainder did eventually blow away and get wet.

Feathers, particularly little fluffy ones, are a key ingredient in birds’ nests particularly for those of small birds such as wrens, long-tailed tits, finches, swallows and house sparrows.

Long-tailed tits can use up to 2,000 feathers during construction of a single nest, travelling widely in their search.

All nests invariably include other ingredients such as wool, dry grass, roots and moss, or even sticks and mud.

So is there any way we can help birds locate suitable materials?

We can encourage them to explore our gardens but can we do more by offering nesting materials?

It can be argued that wild birds don’t need help because their nesting materials are special to their individual needs and yet birds are famous for their adaptability.

Not long ago a pair of collared doves nested on the arm of our satellite dish using nothing but a handful of small twigs .

How they managed to secure that nest and rear two chicks on such a narrow base is still a mystery.

Following my notes about blue tits cleaning nest boxes for Country and Coast in February, I received a pack of nesting material from Fowberry Alpacas at Barton-le-Willows near Malton.

Because alpaca fibre contains the characteristics of both wool and hair, it provides a soft, clean and natural material that seems ideal for nesting birds.

The fibre comes in various colours but in this case it is very dark which makes it ideal as a camouflage for nests – birds don’t draw attention to their visible nests by using brightly coloured or even white materials.

In fact, birds such as the blue tit that clear sacs of poo or other debris from their nests always dispose of their rubbish some distance away so as not to attract predators.

My parcel of very dark alpaca fibre is therefore ideal for birds’ nests and so I’m offering it in a large-mesh feeder to see if it interests our feathered visitors.