Nature Gifts? Here’s How

Squirrel on Jack’s tiny picnic bench – Photo by Gregory Smith
Squirrel on Jack’s tiny picnic bench – Photo by Gregory Smith

Sometimes, nature needs a helping hand. Though you often hear to leave nature alone, there is no denying that we are tied to the natural world around us.

Walking around the backyard of my parents’ house (and my childhood home) just a few days ago, I came across an American bushtit nest nestled in the branches of an oak tree. Bushtits make beautiful hanging nests (pictured), with a small opening on the top to come and go. Typically, they make these nests from natural fibers, sticks and greenery. Mixed among the usual materials of this nest, though, I noticed the synthetic stuffing from dog toys and strips of blue plastic ripped from tarps.


These days, most people are stuck indoors (or they generally should be). Even so, we can still help support our animal and plant neighbors in our backyards and parks. So what can we do to help?

When I was younger, my family would make “bird gifts.” We would collect the shed fur from our dog’s fluffy under coat (which they begin to shed every summer) and put it in big tufts in trees and bushes. We would also snap twigs or dried grass into manageable pieces and put those in piles. Birds would take the fur to line their nests, and use the grass and sticks for the structure. This is a great way to help give birds natural materials that they prefer, so they don’t need to settle for the plastic that is so unfortunately abundant. Perhaps if we had kept doing this, the bushtits wouldn’t have started using the synthetic materials they did.

Want to try it? Here’s how:

Step 1: Collect the materials

Natural Fibers:

  • Collect short pieces of animal fur, feathers, short hair, cotton fluff, or other natural plant fluff.

Tip: Don’t use dryer lint, plastics, or long strands of material, as these can hurt the birds.

  • Plants: Gather small twigs, pine needles, dry grass (straw) and moss.

Tip: Make sure the pieces of twigs are a manageable size for a small bird.

Step 2: Delivering your gift

Birds will look for these materials in the places they usually spend the most time—among trees, bushes, and undergrowth. Try putting your gift in an easily accessible location, where the birds will notice it. I like to put it in a place where I can see it through a window. Some suggestions:

  • In small piles on the ground near trees (works well for leaves and twigs)
  • On top of a fence, posts or railings
  • Placed in and around the crevices of trees
  • Near a tree where you know a bird is nesting.

Step 3: Waiting and watching

It may take some time for the birds to notice it, and they may not approach it at first. But you’ll soon notice the stuff disappear. If they don’t seem to be going for it, try moving it to a new location later.

If you’d like to take the helping hand one step—or should I say—seat further, there’s always a squirrel picnic bench! Recently a craze circulated the internet, especially in the woodworking forums I follow. People were making tiny benches for squirrels! My mom saw this and immediately asked me to make one, so I did. Check out these plans, or make your own design! Happy helping.

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Jack Smith

Written by Jack Smith

Jack is the former administrative assistant for the Marketing department at the OFJCC. He enjoys woodworking, dogs, writing music and crisp high fives.

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