Introduction: Make a Nesting Material Dispenser
Finally spring has sprung, and that means it's nesting season for our little feathered friends. As part of an ongoing effort to attract birds to our garden, I decided to give them a helping with their nest building and make a dispenser for nesting material.
Obviously I could have gone to a hardware store and bought one, but then I would have ended up with a plain little cage which would have done the job but not been particularly attractive. Instead, by expending just a little effort - and using spare materials from other projects - I was able to create a hanging dispenser that actually looks quite nice.
Step 1: Materials
All of the materials I used for this build were left over from other projects, so I can't estimate a total price, but I can't imagine this costing more than a couple of pounds.
* Galvanised garden wire
* Two wooden beads
* One Ikea kitchen hook
* Outdoor varnish
* Something to shape the wire - I used a bottle of flavoured water.
The Ikea kitchen hook was a leftover from a kitchen project, but if you don't have one you could hang the dispenser from a length of chain, string, paracord... whatever you like.
Step 2: It's a Wrap
Take your wire and your bottle (or whatever it is you're using to shape your dispenser.) Give yourself a good amount of spare wire - I left about six inches - and begin to wrap the rest around the bottle neck, starting at the top and working down. The final size of your dispenser will depend on how many wraps you make - I make eight spirals, which ended up with a dispenser about ten inches long.
I'm afraid I can't tell you how long the piece of wire I used was, because I worked straight from the original spool. I advise you do the same.
Step 3: Rewind...
Once you're happy with the number of loops, loosen up the coils at the top of the bottle slightly and slip your coil off the bottle neck. Leave a mark on the bottle at the bottom of the coil before you remove it.
Now you're going to do the same thing, but in reverse. Leave a tiny bit of loose wire at the bottom of your coil and start wrapping around the bottle, this time working from the mark you made and winding back up towards the bottle top. Try to make the same number of loops in this half of the dispenser as you did for the first, to try and ensure that both halves are the same length.
Once you're satisfied, loosen up the coils at the bottle top and slip your spiral off. Using your hands, bend the two halves of the coil together to complete the main body of the dispenser. If, like with mine, the two halves are uneven, you can easily even them out a little with your bare hands.
Step 4: Do the Twist
Using a bottle to shape the coils means that there are some fairly big holes at the end of the dispenser. Remember the six inches of uncoiled wire we left at one end? Take your pliers and twist that wire into a coil to close up the gap. It might help if you use something else to shape these new coils around - I used the end of a wooden spoon to get a basic coil, and then shaped that coil into the shape I wanted using pliers and my fingers. You should still have a length of straight wire at each end.
Step 5: ...And the Max Power Way
For the next couple of steps there are two ways to do things - the sensible way and my way. If you're doing things the sensible way, now is the time to varnish the wooden beads. Follow the instructions for the type of varnish you have, and be sure to coat the inside of the holes in the beads.
I completely forgot about varnishing the beads first and instead went straight on and fixed the beads onto the body of the dispenser. Thread a bead onto the spare straight wire at one end of the dispenser and, using your pliers, bend the wire round into a loop; this is how you'll eventually hang your dispenser. Clip off any unneeded wire. At the other end, give yourself a couple of inches and cut your coil from the spool of wire. Thread the second bead onto the wire and then bend the end of the wire into a tighter loop. Cut the wire short and tuck the end of the loop back into the hole in the bead. You want the loop big enough to firmly hold the bead and prevent it from falling off, but not so big that it's obtrusive and ugly.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
If you're doing things the sensible way, then once you've applied a couple of coats of varnish you'll want to follow the instructions in the previous step and attach the beads to the dispenser. If you're following my stupid way of doing things then your next step is to varnish the beads, which, when they're already attached, is fiddly and difficult to do without getting your varnish on your lovely pristine wire. The stupid method does, however, have the benefit of allowing you to hang the whole contraption from something while you varnish it.
Whichever method you've followed over the last two steps, you should, by now, have a nicely coiled wire dispenser with two decorative wooden beads - definitely more attractive than anything you could have bought for a couple of quid from your local branch of Wilkinsons!
Step 7: Feathering Your Nest
There are plenty of things you can use as nesting material. A few suggestions are:
Human hair - Birds will happily use human hair to line and insulate their nests. And thankfully, you have an unending supply (unless you're bald, in which case, I'm very sorry). Just check your hairbrushes.
Pet fur - Pet fur is also perfectly usable, so collect up the fur the next time you brush your pet. However, if you're using any flea treatments on your pet you should avoid using their fur, as the chemicals used in them can be quite strong.
Material scraps - The material pictured here is blue fleece left over from some microwaveable wheat sacks I made. It's a good idea to make sure that the material is cut thinly, and not too long, as short pieces can be more easilly transported and woven into the nests.
Feathers - Birds use their own feathers to insulate their nests, so why not give them a helping hand by collecting any small feathers you can find and adding them to your dispenser?
Sheep's wool - I'm lucky enough to live right next to the English countryside, and when walking in the fields it's not uncommon to come across bits of wool snagged on fences. Sheep's wool is perfect nesting material - it's soft and strong, and provides excellent insulation.
Twigs - This may sound obvious, but twigs provide the basic structure of the nest. Short, thin twigs are best, strong enough not to snap but with some flexibility.
Commercial nesting material - This can be anything from coconut hairs to alpaca wool, and can be purchased from pet shops, but with so many free alternatives around I've never found a need to buy it.
Other things you might choose to offer to birds are moss, strips of bark, straw or pine needles. Some small birds apparently use spider silk in their nests, so making your garden a safe habitat for spiders can help attract birds of that kind. Many birds also use mud in the construction of their nests, so you might consider keeping a muddy puddle in your garden for them.
Some people use the fluff from tumble or spin dryers in their dispensers. This is NOT recommended. The lint dries out and crumbles once it's been rained on, meaning that nests built with it become unstable, and residues from detergents and fabric softeners can prove harmful.
Step 8: Et Voila!
Once you've collected together enough material, simply load it into your dispenser through the gaps in the coils and hang it in your garden! It might take a while for the dispenser to become established, but before too long you should notice it being visited by birds. Now you can sit back and bask in the knowledge that the birds in your area have the warmest, most comfortable nests around!