Earlier this month, we published a detailed article about making gardens wildlife-friendly for kids. We promised to follow up with a post showing a variety of ways for children to make home-made bird feeders — and that is the subject of this article today. We hope toddlers, young children and their parents enjoy making the feeders and seeing all the new feathered visitors that will subsequently come.
There are hundreds of types of bird in the UK, so if you leave tasty food out for them, a variety are bound to visit. Be patient though, because birds are rightly suspicious of ‘new’ objects, so may take a few days to build up the courage to take a closer look.
Editor’s note: In our garden, we regularly see Robins, Sparrows, Starlings, Blue Tits, Cole Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Great Tits at our bird feeders. Blackbirds, Pigeons and Thrushes also peck at what falls beneath them. However, now that our bird feeders are more established and ‘trusted’ by the birds, we’re seeing Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Black Caps regularly too (they’re really cute!) and, occasionally, brightly coloured Bullfinches.
Once they’re convinced that the new feeders are safe, birds will visit regularly if you continue to leave out tasty treats for them and keep your distance, out of sight. You will soon learn which foods are the most popular, so can fine-tune your bird offerings as time goes by. It’s extremely rewarding seeing who will come and which of the birds will become ‘regulars’. We have a pair of Robins (both called Robin!), a blackbird called Norris and a Woodpecker that we call Woody (what else!). Naming regular bird visitors is all part of the fun for kids. Feeding birds is also educational for young children, who will not only get to know the different species, but also grow their appreciation of the outdoors, nature, and our impact on it. Often, an early exposure to nature and some of its wonderful creatures can lead to a life-long appreciation. This can help the creatures living nearby and the mental wellbeing of the children themselves as they develop a deeper appreciation of the natural world.
Home-made Bird Feeder Ideas
In our last post, we mentioned some commercially-available bird food, but here we’ll take a look at some home-made bird treats that children, parents and guardians can make for the birds at home. They’re pretty quick and easy to make and can often be made from materials and ingredients that are available in the home kitchen. Children may need to ask an adult to buy some seeds, as these are very popular with wild birds. Garden centres and supermarkets usually offer a variety of seeds that are suitable for birds, including different bird seed mixes.
First, a safety note: Children should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times, including around any tools that are required (e.g. scissors and knives) and also around any ingredients that might cause an allergic reaction (e.g. some children may be allergic to nuts).
With a little imagination, lots of things can be made into bird feeders; from empty cartons, used Easter egg boxes (but remove all trace of chocolate as it’s poisonous to birds), empty plastic bottles, the cardboard core from kitchen towel/toilet rolls and so on. Here are just a few ideas, though, that we’ve tried ourselves:
Pine Cone Bird Feeder
These are quick and easy! Here are the steps to making your own pine cone bird feeder:
- When you’re next out walking near pine trees, pick up one or two nicely-shaped pine cones whose ‘seed scales’ are opening. It’s important that they’re open, as that’s where much of the bird food will go (described in steps 3 & 4 below). If they’re only open a little bit, bring them indoors into the warm house for a few days and they’re more likely to open more fully.
- Tie some string to the one end (whichever is easiest) and that will later be used to hang the pine cone feeder outside for the birds.
- Cover the pine cone with peanut butter or lard using a suitable implement from the kitchen (e.g. a spatula or blunt knife — under close adult supervision, of course). This should be pressed into the open scales.
- Roll the sticky pine cone into a tray or flat plate of bird seeds, which should easily stick to the peanut butter or lard. Try to ensure that some of the seeds get pressed into the seed scale openings of the pine cone. Birds will enjoy the process of digging those out.
- Tie the seeded pine cone somewhere suitable* for the birds outside.
- Once they’re used to the new addition (and it can take a few days), birds will start to come for the delicious seeds, so long as they feel they are safe*.
Hanging Bread Feeder
A slice of fresh bread, ideally brown or granary bread, can be used in a similar way to the pine cone above. An end crust may work best as it’ll be stronger when held by the piece of string (alternatively garden wire can be used so long as no sharp ends are left protruding otherwise they birds can be caught up in it or become injured). So, the bread needs coating with lard or peanut butter (both sides) and then the seeds need to be pressed into that sticky coating. Once coated, it can be hung outside* using a similar approach to the pine cone feeder above. Simple! If children want to get even more creative, by the way, they can use bagels, with the string being threaded through the hole in the middle. N.B. Never allow bread or other bird foods to become mouldy as the mould is very harmful to birds.
Carton Bird Feeder
Who would have thought it; a milk or juice carton can be made into an excellent bird feeder! It requires the use of scissors or a knife, so it’s best for this one to be made partly by an adult:
- Take an empty juice or milk carton (a ‘Tetra Pak’ type with the waxy folded card – see image), or indeed an empty plastic water bottle would do;
- Unscrew the cap and wash it thoroughly and allow to dry.
- An adult should pierce a hole near the top. This will later be used to attach string, from which it will hang.
- Using pointed scissors or a sharp knife, a responsible adult should then carefully cut the shapes shown in the accompanying image. The idea is for there to be an area at the bottom of the carton/bottle, about 2 to 3 inches from the base, which will eventually be filled with bird food.
- The feeder can be just a feeder or it can be made to look like an owl or other creature using a little imagination. For example, some flaps cut on the sides could look like wings.
- Some carton types can be painted by the child, so it looks attractive. Acrylic paint is best as it’ll stay put, once dry, even if it rains. It can be bright but more natural colours are much less likely to frighten off the birds.
- A stick or stiff straw can be pierced into the feeder near the bottom (not shown), for the birds to land on, or some flaps can be left open (shown right) for the same purpose. Ensure there are no sharp ends or edges anywhere otherwise birds (or humans) may be injured.
- Fill the bottom section with bird seed, small pieces of fresh bread or other bird food and hang up somewhere suitable* for the birds. Once they’re used to it, they should soon be landing and poking their heads inside to peck at the tasty treats.
Apple Bird Feeder
Children can ask a responsible adult for help with this one. There are a few ways apples can be used to feed birds; they can be placed on the ends of twigs, branches or sticks (see image, right), cut into slices and threaded onto hanging string, or made into a fully-fledged ‘feeder’ as outlined below …
- First, the adult will need to carefully remove the apple core from a whole apple, so there is a neat hole right from the top of the apple to the bottom. It’s important, though, to ensure that the remainder of the apple remains in one piece.
- Then, get some string and make a knotted loop in one end and pass that loop from the top of the apple almost to the bottom, through the hole.
- The adult should then pierce the apple with a thin (e.g. 5 or 6mm thick) stick near the bottom of the apple, at right angles to the central hole.
- As it pierces the apple through the centre hole, the loop of the string can be threaded over the stick before it’s pushed through the second half of the apple. In this way, it’s trapped. A second stick can be pierced through the apple, ideally also passing through the loop in the string, at right angles to the first. In this way, there will be a ‘cross’ perch, with four protruding perches for birds to land on and sit at when eating.
- Pointed seeds can even be pierced into the skin of the apple to coat it lightly (if too fiddly, an adult can make little holes in the skin for the seeds to be pushed into).
- The whole thing can then be suspended by the string outside, somewhere suitable*.
If you want to be more creative, you can thread more fruits, grapes or ground nuts (peanuts in their shells) onto the same string and perhaps give them seed coatings too.
* Siting Your Bird Feeders
Birds are under pretty much constant fear of attack from predators, so it’s important to locate your bird feeders where birds are safest and most likely to feel secure enough to eat. Therefore bird feeders should be:
- • high enough off the ground to be safe from predators like cats. 1½ metres off the ground would be a good minimum height, for example.
- • low enough for children or their parents/guardians to be able to refill or change them once all the food has gone (so it’s a balance);
- • suspended or sited ideally under cover from the canopy of a larger tree, bush, roof or building overhang of some kind. This is so that the birds are less likely to be attacked from above by birds of prey like Sparrowhawks (shown right). People are often unaware that such birds are even around, but they’re silent and cunning and often lurk inconspicuously without anyone realising. However, once they attack, they come rapidly out of nowhere, usually from above, and are then gone in a flash along with their bird or rodent dinner. Bird feeders situated under some kind of canopy or overhang will therefore generally be more popular with feeding birds than those exposed directly to sky above.
Birds will also appreciate some fresh, clean water, by the way. They also love a bird bath. Take a look at our previous post for more information.
Learn More About Our Forest School at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Birmingham
Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is located in Edgbaston, near Birmingham. It’s is a childcare nursery as well as being a Forest School setting. This gives under-fives access to the natural world and to nature in the local Birmingham area and it teaches them so much. We’re keen for children to also enjoy nature – including birds – at home too, so these home-made bird feeder ideas should allow families to enjoy birds, even if they don’t have a garden. Learn more about Forest School in our comprehensive guide. If you are interested in a place for your baby, toddler or under-5 child at a nursery, pre-school or Forest School in Edgbaston, or near to Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, call 0121 246 4922, contact us, or book a visit here. We’ll be very happy to hear from you.