People feed birds to attract them to their home environment, not just to help the birds out during food scarcity periods such as winter, but also for the chance to observe nature in action. Sometimes it’s just not possible to head out into the world further afield to seek out the birds, so instead we set up feeding stations where we can see them from our home.
Whilst there are plenty of styles available to buy, it can be fun and rewarding to make your own, and can help children explore design and craft with a fantastic outcome of seeing wild birds come by to use their creations.
How do you make a simple bird feeder?
There are three core essentials to attracting any bird to your home-made feeders: the right kind of food, a supply of water, and safety.
The food on offer will help determine who drops by. Many birds who frequent feeders are known as generalist, and will often eat a range of seeds, fruit and insects. Water is essential to life – we all need it. Birds love the sound of running water particularly, but any provision of water is perfect.
Lastly, feeling safe whilst attention is diverted to eating and drinking is essential for every bird. Where you place your feeder matters, to make sure you give every bird the opportunity to be safe from predators and other dangerous situations like terrible weather.
Where you place your feeder matters.
Providing an opportunity to land and spend a few moments sorting and selecting food is perfect, and also gives you the chance to get a good look at them. There are several types of feeders you can make depending on your skill levels; some of us are hotshots at woodwork but for the rest of us, everyday objects like string, food and drink containers, and even the skins of some fruits, can suffice.
- Make some holes around the edge of a large paper plate and feed some string through each hole, then gather the ends together and tie them around a branch, suspending the plate below. Place your food of choice first at the centre and then spread it out more thinly towards the edges. If you’re feeling flash, make a few layers of plates one above the other, like a cake stand. Remember to bring the feeder in if wet weather is forecast.
- Tie string tightly around the threaded or ridged edge of a shallow jar or the lipped edge of a plastic tub, or make holes through that instead, and as above, gather the ends of the string above to suspend the receptacle. Fill it to the brim and wait for the birds to come by and perch on the edge.
Attracting a range of species depends entirely on what you provide for them.
- If you have any Lego, let your inner architect loose and build a feeding tower or dish that you can then hang from a branch as above.
- The cardboard inner tubes of kitchen towels and toilet paper can make excellent seed holders. Make two holes in your tube, one at each end, and pull through a length of string at each. Make sure you do this bit first! Then coat the outside of the tube with softened suet or lard, or smooth peanut butter, and then roll that in a plate of bird seed. Tie the two lengths of string around a branch and wait.
- Pine cone feeders are excellent for that natural look and feel and are easy to customise as feeders, and you can make a lot of these and hang them all around your yard. Collecting the cones can be fun too, but make sure you get ones whose scales have opened right out, so you can get more seed in there. First, you’ll want to get the messy sticky base layer on, so take a blunt or butter knife and spread peanut butter or fat all around the scales, getting in deep too. Then, sprinkle or dip your seeds and small pieces of fruit all around, tie a loop of string to the top, and head outdoors with your small yet fully stocked feeders and adorn your yard like it’s a huge Christmas tree.
- Tube feeders are everywhere in pet and animal feed stores but you can easily make your own with some twigs, pencils or chopsticks and an empty plastic bottle that has its lid; you’re also recycling! Make a few holes facing each other down the side of the bottle, and pull through your twigs leaving part of either end poking out for a perch. Make sure you’ve removed any thorns or sticking out bits that could harm little feet. If you have any spare wooden spoons, even better, as the bowl can be an extra-large seating area for someone. Pour your seeds in through the bottle neck, put on the lid, and then you can either tie string around the neck or if you’re handy and have the tools, insert a small metal hook into the middle of the lid and tie string through that.
- The outside skin and rind of foods like watermelons, oranges, squash and some gourds make wonderful food holders, and any remaining flesh still there on the inside will be a bonus for some birds. Some skins can be tough, of course, so go easy making those holes, and then push your string through as before.
- WATER – always make sure you have a source of water nearby: either use the plastic tub method above or just by putting out a shallow dish on the ground can help. If you only have deep tubs or holders, then place some stones and sticks inside to make a sort of beach, and if it’s a large receptacle then likewise place some stones and pebbles in the middle as well to make an island. Change the water every day.
Do's and don'ts
There are some safety measures you’ll need to think about so that the birds come by and eat your offerings. Your food outlet may be the best in the world but no one will touch it if it means they end up being dinner instead.
- Ideally, place your feeders near to other places for them to perch or observe the feeder from, preferably shrubs or trees where they can also hide but still get a clear view of the food. Try to avoid placing your feeder in an area that is open all around. If you can provide a good opportunity to flee a predator to covered safety nearby, then that’s perfect.
- Having said that, don’t place it too near to a fence, window ledge or sturdier parts of trees that gives larger predators like cats an easy vantage point to make an attack from.
Adorn your yard like it’s a huge Christmas tree.
- Avoid placing feeders too close to windows to avoid collisions – if you have the space, 10 feet away from your house is good, or if you don’t have the space then consider adding decals to your windows or put up some strings of beads, buttons, popcorn or suncatchers to break up the reflectivity of the window glass.
- Attracting a range of species depends entirely on what you provide for them – like us, they have different needs to be met, and the more you provide, the more likely they will come by.
- Do some research for the birds that live in your area and the kinds of food they like, and you’re sure to make them want to visit your restaurant sooner or later. Be patient – it can take a couple of weeks for birds to not only smell out the food, but also keep a vigil for a while to make sure there are no predators or safety concerns.
There are excellent health benefits for us to reap through watching the birds in our gardens and backyards, helping us lower our stress levels and encourage a state of mindfulness, to enjoy being in the here and now and just watching in calm and unhurried silence.
You also get to feel a sense of pride that a wild creature is visiting your hand-crafted creation, and you’re helping them stay well fed and watered when perhaps their own food is hard to come by. Remember – wherever you place your feeders, make sure you can see them too.