PHOTO: Tessa Zundel
February 22, 2016

Living out in the country without recycling collection, we see first-hand how our plastic waste can build up. We wash it and bag it just like we did when we lived in a city, but now we see it sit around until one of us has time to take it to the recycling center. Our overarching goal is to stop purchasing items that come in plastic packaging, but until we get to that point, we’re constantly looking for ways to make plastic useful around the homestead.

For six years, we in the lovely highland desert of the Intermountain West, and while the landscape was truly unique, we missed the variety of wild birds of our previous home in the coastal state of North Carolina. Orange-breasted bluebirds, buntings of various kinds, bold cardinals, and curious titmice and chickadees were among our favorites to observe. Having recently moved to Missouri, we discovered that we can enjoy the same variety of birds we once did. Wanting to be able to watch them closely and provide them with bird-approved snacks, we made this simple plastic-bottle bird feeder. You can, too!

What You’ll Need

  • plastic bottle of any size
  • dish (Make sure it’s large and sturdy enough to handle the weight of the birds in your area.)
  • pen
  • scissors or box cutter
  • sturdy twine
  • bird feed

Step 1

I didn’t want to have to refill the bird feeder every day, so I had the kids choose the biggest bottle we had in our recycling bag: an orange juice bottle. It’s important that your bottle have its lid, regardless of size. Thoroughly wash and dry it.

Step 2

Our ideal dish turned out to be a square dish with deep sides of about 4 inches—sturdy enough to accommodate the fat, greedy blue jays around our home. Take the lid off the plastic bottle, and stand it on its head inside your dish. Using a pen, trace the round opening of the bottle in the center of the dish. Set aside the bottle and cut away the circle you’ve traced. If the plastic dish is particularly rigid, make your circle just a tad bit bigger than the actual circular opening of the bottle.

Gather up the plastic bits and put them back in your recycling bag. You don’t want any plastic getting mixed up with your bird seed later on.

Step 3

Take the pen and sketch three to four triangles evenly spaced around the neck of the bottle. This will be where the bird seed comes out. Use your judgement as to how big the holes should be. If your bottle is small and your seed is small, the holes should be no bigger than 1/4 inch wide. Our bottle and dish were both larger, so our holes were about 1/2 inch wide at their base.

Cut out the triangles and add the plastic bits to your recycling bag.

Step 4

Punch two holes on opposite sides of the bottle’s base—what would be the standing end if the bottle were upright—with scissors or a drill. Feed the twine through the inside of the bottle with the ends protruding from the outside. We fed ours through by tying it to the end of a bamboo skewer and pushing really hard—very scientific, I know. This will be the hanger for your bird feeder,.

Tie the ends of your twine into a strong knot. I have a Boy Scout on staff, so he did something fancy that will never slip out.

Step 5

Invert your bottle, and fill it with bird seed. We used dry, whole-grain chicken feed, which includes black oil sunflower seeds and field peas.

Invert your dish and place the opening of the bottle through the hole you cut. If you need to, push gently to get the bottle mouth all the way through the hole, but avoid pushing so hard that you crack your dish.

Replace the cap on your bottle and twist until its snug. The cap will hold the dish in place.

Step 6

Invert the entire feeder, and watch the seeds fall freely into the dish. (Don’t worry if it takes a while—gravity will do its thing.) Hang your plastic bottle bird feeder somewhere handy for you to observe your feathered guests.

Enjoying Your Bird Feeder

It took us about a half hour to make this bird feeder, and that included time for getting the toddler out of the fish pond and refereeing at least one squabble per kid about who got to cut and who got to put in bird seed. We then spent the next hour watching through the window as quietly as we could, noting which birds were brave enough to try the new feeder first. The cheeky titmouse won.

We’ve had our feeder more than a month now, and it’s holding up really well. Eventually the plastic will crack or otherwise become weak, at which point we’ll make another and recycle the old one.

If this feeder project has peaked your children’s interest in birds, creating happy havens for wild birds in your garden can be a fun spring project.



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