Bird Nesting Balls

Bird Nesting Balls

I was staring out my window watching a bird taking fiber from a nesting ball and thought this might be something worth writing about.  I have been running a multi-year experiment on the fiber preferences of my local birds.

Spring 2021

My experiment started in 2021 when I began spinning some llama I bought from a local farmer.  Though the fiber was dehaired, when I got into the bags I discovered quite a bit of VM (aka vegetable matter).

Two bags of grey llama fiber
200g of llama fiber
Raw llama fiber with VM
Raw llama fiber with VM







VM is something spinners hate because if it gets into the singles there will be prickly bits stuck in the yarn.  As a result, I ended up removing large sections of this fiber and putting it in the discard pile.  I started with 200g of fiber and at the end had 158g of plied yarn.  So quite a bit of fiber was passed over. 

However, I found this neat metal hanger and thought I’d try filling it with fiber and see what the birds thought of it.  It was spring and prime nest building season so it was worth a try.  The VM filled llama got stuffed into the blue hanger.  And as far as I could tell not much happened after that.  We did not notice the birds taking any of the fiber and it seemed to be a total bust.

llama fiber installed in blue hanging open feeder
Llama fiber installed in blue hanging open feeder
Closeup of llama fiber in feeder with VM showing
Closeup of llama fiber in feeder with VM showing




Spring 2022

One day we had our cat Jupiter groomed by Purrdy Paws Mobile Pet Grooming.  And as they were giving our cat back to me, they also handed me a pile of Jupiter’s fur.  (Side note, Jupiter went over the Rainbow bridge in fall 2022 so looking through our photos or him to select one for this blog has been lovely.)

Van with Purrdy Paws logo on the side
Purrdy Paws Mobile Cat Grooming Salon
Black cat after grooming with Lion cut
Jupiter after grooming sporting his Lion cut.







The blue hanger with the llama fiber was still on the feeder, and I added the handful of black cat fur to the top of the blue hanger.  I wasn’t expecting much of anything but it seemed like a good way to use that handful of cat fur.  What happened was that the birds, especially the chickadees, took the black cat fur away and continued to ignore the llama.  Hmmm…


Closeup of the bird feeders with black cat hair visible
Closeup of the bird feeders with black cat hair visible
Bird feeders and 2 pileated woodpeckers
Bird feeders and 2 pileated woodpeckers




Spring 2023

In May I went to a small fiber festival and a couple of my friends were selling nesting balls.  Given my failure with the llama I was not sure how things would go with the nesting balls but I decided to expand my experiment.  I purchased two nesting balls… one with Alpaca and another with wool and added them to our feeders.

Nesting ball with cream wool
Nesting ball with cream wool
Nesting ball with tan and cream alpaca fiber
Nesting ball with tan and cream alpaca fiber








We haven’t noticed much activity with the alpaca fiber, but the wool nesting ball has been a hit. We have seen both chickadees and goldfinches taking wool.  It is really fun to watch them work.



I suspect I will have to refill the wool nesting ball next year to supply the birds with the material they prefer.  I have also started collecting cat fur from our pet brushing efforts (we have 3 cats so collecting cat fur should be easy enough) and adding it to the blue hanger.   It will be interesting to see which fibre gets the most attention next year.

Handful of grey cat fur
Handful of grey cat fur
Blue hanger with grey llama and black cat fur
Blue hanger with grey llama and black cat fur


22 thoughts on “Bird Nesting Balls

  1. Great experiments. Who would have thought birds would like cat fur (a potential predator). I’ll try wool. Thank you for sharing.

  2. We loved your video of the bird wrestling with the wool to pull some away for nesting.

    How strange that the alpaca was ignored yet the cat fur wasn’t. We’ve put out merino wool and the birds here took that quite quickly.

    1. The Goldfinches continued to take wool till about August 15th. I know they nest later than other birds because they eat seeds so they time their babies for when more seeds are around. But it still seemed very late to me. It has been fun to watch them though.

  3. That was lovely – the Chickadee fluffing up the wool with it’s foot and then grabbing more. I wondered how he’d see where he was going with the amount of fluff he was stuffing in his beak – like trying to peer through a long (upside down) fringe.
    I have actually put some of my own hair out for the birds after my hairdresser’s been to give me a trim and it seems to have gone. I also put waste wool out but I just put it on the ground, so it could be mice taking it.
    I love the idea of the nesting balls and I must find a way of making a container – I knew I shouldn’t have got rid of my basket making canes!

    1. If you have wild grapes nearby I think you should be able to make a nesting ball out of grape vine pretty easily.

  4. What interesting experiment! Who knew birds would have favourite fibres to nest with?

    I like to imagine the reason the llama fibre was ignored is because birds are actually spinners and, upon seeing all the VM, also decided it would make for too prickly a yarn 😀

    Also: I laughed out loud at Jupiter’s face in the after-grooming photo, it’s hilarious! (Sorry, Jupiter. Say hello to my Rainbow Bridge kitties for me, please <3 )

    1. I’m sure our beloved fur children are having a blast together over the Rainbow Bridge.

  5. Interesting how they don’t like the llama. I wondered about what it was washed in but it should be well rinsed after a year of being rained and snowed on. I wonder f they would like dyed fibres.

    1. The problem with dyed fibers is that the nest becomes more visible. I think that would put the baby birds at risk as the predators would be able to find the nest more easily. Though this may be wrong as I’m sure the predators vision is not the same as ours.

    2. I also just realized that the Llama and the Wool both came from the same farm. So presumably they were washed with the same method.

  6. That is so lovely – I had to watch the video a couple of times and call the family in to see it. I had never heard of nesting balls. Normally I just leave our dog hair in the garden and stuff it into the hedges for the birds to collect (we have a Shetland Sheepdog who is uber hairy and has a fabulous soft undercoat). You have identified a way that we can discover if our little feathered friends are attracted to Archie’s leftovers. I will find a bird feeder to pack the goodies into and see what happens.

    Thanks for the great read.

    1. I look forward to seeing what you come up with to hold Archie’s fur and how the birds react to it.

  7. Could this be a topic for a quarterly challenge? Make a nesting ball and report on the results?
    Carlene’s idea of wild grape vines, made me think. We don’t have any of those, but we do have lots of similar stuff – old man’s beard and Bryony – growing in our hedgerows, at least those that don’t get butchered by the Council and farmers each year! I’ll start collecting on our next walk – better be back from the pub rather than to it though.

    1. I was picturing you showing up at the pub with a basket full of gathered supplies. I’m sure that would cause some discussion among the patrons 🙂

  8. Like Helene, I’d not heard of nesting balls either. Having seen your lovely little video I’m definitely going to be putting one out next Spring, supplemented with human hair (thanks for that tip Ann).

  9. What an interesting post! I can report that the birds in South Wales also like cat fur for their nests. One of my cats is a Maincoon and she has a very dense undercoat. They loved it! I just put loose in the garden but did video them helping themselves, so sweet to watch them isn’t it. You’ve inspired me to have a go making some nesting balls as I have some thin canes left over from when I wove a basket a few years ago, I’ll give it a try. I also have some unprocessed wool that I could use. Thanks Carlene!

    1. Just an afterthought, maybe the birds like cat fur as it might mask the scent of their nest to any feline preditors lurking around?

  10. Fascinating experiments results re the cat fur.
    Loved the video….you must have spent many happy moments watching their wool gathering antics.

    I’ve tried nesting balls here in the past, but the wool contents just got too soggy. You’ve inspired me to try again next spring….but protected from the rain!

  11. Our local birds love horse body hair and mane/tail hair. The birds use the fluffy body hair for lining the nest. When they’re shedding in spring, our horses roll on the ground leaving big patches of soft body hair on the grass. These patches disappear quickly during nesting season. The birds find random strands of mane and tail hairs on the fences. They use these long hairs to weave the nest cup, just like they use long strands of grass.

    1. Neat! Bird nests are amazing construction works. Especially the ones that are hanging baskets/pouches.

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