Can Your Shedding Dog Help the Birds?

Your dog's fluff might be good nest insulation for birds and their babies. sonsam/Shutterstock

When I brush my dog, especially in spring, I like to do it on the back deck. Depending on how much fluff I gather and how hard the wind is blowing, I often have wandering dog-hair tumbleweeds all over the yard.

Maybe birds watch my grooming exploits and are happy that I let all that dog hair go.

When birds start constructing their elaborate nests in spring, they look for all sorts of building materials. They search for twigs and leaves, moss and fluff, writes the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and will look for various items wherever they can find them.

You can help provide nesting material by either growing them in your yard or by making them easily accessible and, if you're a dog owner, one fluffy material that can provide warmth and softness is dog hair.

There are benefits to your four-legged friend's furry castoffs. "Animal fiber works well for nesting, because it is durable and not inclined to soak up water. Just don’t use any fur that has been treated with flea dips or insect repellents," the NWF writes on its website.

But don't offer human hair which is so thin that it can wrap about a bird's legs and neck, cutting off circulation, causing injury or death. Also avoid dryer lint, which may seem like a soft, fuzzy material but it can absorb water and may also be full of laundry chemicals.

The NWF suggests stuffing fur into an empty suet feeder or filling a wire whisk with fur and then hanging it by its handle from a tree or shrub, so it's easy for birds to pull hair for their nests.

A dog hair feeder

suet feeder stuffed with dog hair
Stuffing a suet feeder with dog hair makes it easy for the birds to find it. Heather Clarkson

Heather Clarkson has been putting out dog hair for the birds for years in her North Carolina yard.

"Usually I just throw it on a bush, but using the suet feeder seemed much cleaner so I gave it a try," says Clarkson, who leads the coastal Carolinas field program for the nonprofit conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife and is the founder of a herding breed dog rescue.

"I just put one out yesterday and so far only a squirrel has visited, but it takes a few days for them to find it. Plus it's not full-scale nesting season here yet."

Clarkson has 14 dogs, so the birds have quite a selection of Aussie, poodle and mixed-breed hair from which to choose.

"I've found the fur in nests plenty of times in years past," she says. "I do always wonder how the baby birds feel about growing up surrounded by the scent of dog."

Besides the unmistakable cologne, dog hair has other benefits.

In her blog, "The Zen Birdfeeder," Nancy Castillo says dog hair can help birds in several ways.

"It provides a soft surface for the nestlings as well as acting as an insulator from cold and wet," she writes. "You can help those birds by providing fur from your dog or cat. By doing so, you might help their nesting success as they conserve energy by taking advantage of an easy source of animal fur."

But not every aviary group is completely sold on the idea of sharing pet hair with the birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently revised its list of dos and don'ts for providing nesting material for birds and no longer suggests animal hair or fur.

"In theory, pet hair and fur can be a good idea; however, there have been reports of birds getting tangled in it, and not everyone may know or remember when the last flea/tick treatments were given, so we decided to err on the side of caution and recommend against it," Victoria Campbell, digital content manager for the Cornell Lab, tells MNN via email.

"This is one of those situations where deciding whether to use it would really be on a case-by-case basis, but that starts getting complicated when you are trying to put up a go-to list for everyone!"

The St. Francis Wildlife Association cautions against offering yarn and string for similar reasons.

"Every year St. Francis Wildlife receives wild birds, both babies and adults, with this material wrapped around their feet. It can sometimes result in the bird losing its foot or entire leg from the yarn/string/hair slowly tightening and cutting off circulation," the group says in a Facebook post.

"Birds have plenty of natural materials for nest building: twigs, dried leaves, grass and flower stems, pine straw, shed snake skins, Spanish moss, lichen, etc."