Environmental Learning Natural Play Pure Science

Build A Bird Feeder

A project from recyclables that’s for the birds, really.


January 2014 will be remembered for the frigid temperatures, and also a day off of school for Minnesota kids and teachers! This bird feeder project uses recyclables that many have on hand.  It can be built in 15 minutes or drawn out to take longer in case you and yours suffering from a bit of cabin fever and need a hands-on project!

It all started with the question, “What do birds do to stay warm out there?”  I stepped back from the project by only asking questions.  The power of inquiry, play, and creativity amazed me yet again.  Our product, a bird feeder engineered out of recyclables and scraps from the junk drawer, was some fun hands-on service-learning, but the process based on questions was even better.  Here are some questions to guide your project, followed by a how-to-build-it description.

What do the birds need to stay warm when its cold out?  How could we get food to them?  How could we build a feeder?  What could we build it out of?  Would you put the bottle up, sideways, or down?  How would you hang it?  How many doors should it have?  Where do you see leverage?  Could you build it without glue or tape?  Will the bird be safe?  Where would the birds get the food?  What else would we need?  How will they stand?  How could we test it out?  Does it need anything else?  What food would they like?  Should we place it in the front yard or the back yard?  Are their birds on it yet?

How to Build a Juice Bottle Bird Feeder:

1.  Get a large plastic juice bottle and plastic tray/lid out of the recycling.  Find 3 chopsticks or bamboo skewers, a metal hanger, and some twisties/pipe cleaners.  A nail, knife, and hammer will be used by an adult to make some slices and punctures in the plastic.

2. Use a knife to cut two 3″ x 3″ flaps from the largest sides of the bottle about 2″ above the base.  Position the chopsticks in a criss-cross pattern to prop the flaps like awnings.

3.  Use the nail and hammer to poke 2 holes, one on each side of the bottle on the small sides abot 2.5″ from the base.  Feed twisties/pipe cleaners through the holes.  Inside the bottle wrap the twisties/pipe cleaners around a bamboo skewer or chopstick that has been broken in half.

4.  Use the nail and hammer to puncture the tray/lid two times about 5″ apart.  Feed the other end of the twisties/pipe cleaners through the holes and secure together on the bottom side of the tray.  The tray should now be connected to the base of the juice bottle.

5.  Use the nail and hammer to puncture 2 holes in the juice bottle cap about 1/2″ apart.  Bend the small end of a wire clothes hanger then feed it through the cap.  Return the cap to the bottle with the hanger attached.

6.  Test your feeder by placing small, bird-sized objects on the base and inside.  (We used pears).

7.  Adjust as needed.  Fill with bird seed, popcorn, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, etc and hang it outside.  Wait and watch!

With long shadows and dark nights, winter is a great time to talk with kids about energy.  Phenology is the study of how plants and animals change with the seasons.  In A Northwoods Companion, author John Bates shares these ideas and facts about birds that winter in the cold Midwest:

  • Energy is the currency of life in the Northwoods winter.
  • Snow, cold, radiation, energy and wind—the forces of winter that make survival difficult to impossible for most organisms.
  • Birds seldom modify their environment in order to conserve heat.  Most birds are only able to seek shelter in dense vegetation or tree cavities, a tactic that is moderately effective at best.  What they must resort to is continuous shivering.
  • If an animal expends more energy than it receives, then it must borrow from fat stores which it accumulated during winter and fall.
  • Birds like goldfinches and redpolls may increase their feather layer by 50% in winter.
  • Chickadees employ one other trick to reduce heat loss.  They allow their body temperatures to reduce gradually during inactive periods, until they enter a regulated condition of hypothermia.

Play. Learn. Love.

January 2014