From Yarn Scraps to Bird's Nests, Part 2

This article addresses bird nest material: (1) using synthetic yarn and (2) why dryer lint is dangerous to put out.

(See From Yarn Scraps to Bird's Nests, Part 1, which discusses safe bird nesting materials, ways of putting them out, and ideas for containers).

Cedar waxwings with yarn
While researching this article, important information regarding chemicals in yarns, fibers, and fabrics  sparked two more articles:

- Part 1, Fabrics: Wash handmade items before using or giving as gifts? Yes!

- Part 2, Yarns & Fibers: Wash handmade items before using or giving as gifts? Yes!

The goal of this article is to present facts so that you can draw your own conclusion.  Since I am not an expert, I get my information from experts, and cite all my sources.  

The information in this post are excerpts.  Click the picture or source link to go to the source and view full information.

Nest with yarn woven in

Is it safe to use synthetic yarn such as acrylic, for nesting material?

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Bright yarn safe for bird nests?)  it's okay, but not really:
Birds often use man-made materials for their nests these days. Yarn pieces are OK to put out for birds to use as nesting materials. There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind though:  
Nest made with man-made and natural materials
1) Keep strands at 4" - 6" (10.25 - 15.25 cm) so there's no   danger of wildlife becoming entangled.
2) Natural materials that will biodegrade over the course of time (like cotton or wool) are preferred to synthetic materials.
3) Thin strips of cloth are OK; keep them about 1" wide by 6" long. (The birds unravel the strips by pulling individual threads).
4) Birds can see color, so if they use the brightly-colored yarns, they are aware of the colors they are selecting (and they do have choices out there in nature).

...That said, avian predators like crows are visually-oriented and may differentially prey on highly-visible nests.

Why is dryer lint dangerous as a bird nesting material?

According to Melissa Mayntz, Birding/Wild Birds, in her article, Dryer Lint as Nesting Material, Don't Offer This Dangerous Material to Nesting Birds:
  • Texture: Lint is stripped fibers and has no structure of its own. Because of this, it falls apart easily and will not hold up to the actions of growing nestlings. After wet lint dries, it can be particularly brittle and a nest made of dryer lint will disintegrate.
  • Chemicals: Depending on the exact detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets used, lint can contain perfumes, soap residue and artificial dyes – none of which are safe for birds. The higher concentration of these chemicals in lint can make it particularly toxic.
  • Scent: The fresh scent of warm, dried laundry can be wonderful for humans, and while most birds do not have a strong sense of smell and won't mind the odor, those same scents can attract predators right to a vulnerable nest.
  • Dust: The small particles of dry, loose lint are easy to disturb and can be inhaled by birds, even young chicks. This dust can cause respiratory distress and even choking or suffocation in severe cases.
  • Mold: When lint gets wet, it will retain the moisture for far longer than more natural materials. Not only can staying in a damp nest chill birds, but the wet lint can develop toxic mold or mildew.
  • Stickiness: Wet dryer lint pulls apart easily but will stick to many surfaces and can become caked on birds' legs, feet and plumage. In severe cases, this can disrupt the insulation of a bird's feathers and may have even more harmful effects on the development of feathers in altricial chicks.
  • Composition: While most dryer lint is made up of very small, fuzzy particles, longer threads or hairs can also be part of a mass of lint. Those long pieces can tangle around birds' legs, wings or other body parts, potentially causing injuries similar to the effects of fishing line.*
Nest with yarn, wool, feathers, and more
Nest with yarn, wool, feathers, & more

She goes on to say to clean outside dryer vents monthly, because the movement of the lint from the blowing air attracts birds.  She also gives some handy tips on USING dryer lint, so all is not lost!

My Personal Opinion (MPO)

Chipping sparrow gathering threads from fabric scraps
I had daydreams of prettily colored nests holding happy and grateful singing birds.  Unfortunately, as much as I want to put out pretty bright acrylic yarn, it's adding non-biodegradable litter to the environment - and - the fact that the colors may attract crows that would eat the babies would give me nightmares.

Happily the alternatives:  using the natural yarns I have, along with the other items recommended in From Yarn Scraps to Bird's Nests, Part 1 (which, on the big plus side - even sans bright synthetic yarns - the things on the list still make a fab fun scavenger hunt for kids, making it even more exciting for them to use in a nesting material project)!

What do YOU think?
Everyone has the right to make their own decisions.  I celebrate whatever choice you make, and hope this article helped you make a more informed one!

Just remember that whatever yarn and thread and fabric scraps you put out, be sure to wash them first!  (See  Wash handmade items before using or giving as gifts? Yes! Part 1: Fabrics, and Wash handmade items before using or giving as gifts? Yes! Part 2: Yarns & Fibers)

On that note, I'll leave you with this industrious little nest-builder, gathering pet hair directly from the source!  

Your thoughts are always appreciated!