Reduce, reuse, recycle. Yes I’m frugal and environmentally conscious. Washing out my plastic zippered bags and rinsing aluminum foil to reuse is indeed ingrained in my daily living. As it turns out, I’m also a pack rat. And so my dear husband has to put up with some clutter associated with that moniker.

In the basement, the garage, the workshop, I have a multitude of items tucked away, “just in case.” I never throw out chipped dishes, thinking that some day I will use them for a lovely mosaic craft project. Scraps of wood sit in the workshop awaiting use, even if it is to light a backyard winter campfire. Many of my plans do not come to fruition but those most likely to see completion are for the birds. Literally.

Take a look around your house and see what items you might use to build feeders and baths for your feathered friends. Recycled items add a personal charm to the garden. With a little imagination, you can skip the landfill and create functional items and do some good for backyard wildlife.

The World Goes Green

Platform feeder made from recycled material (photo by 'nanny_56')

Technological advances in manufacturing recycled goods have provided consumers with new choices in building materials. On a large scale, fencing, decking and mulch may be found in backyards. This trend toward long lasting, environmentally friendly material is extended to the birding world. Feeders built with recycled material are more durable than their wooden counterparts and are much easier to clean and sanitize. Generally more expensive, they often come with a lifetime guarantee and “pay for themselves.”

Bird Feeders

Natural Items

Readily found items like pinecones and logs are easy to turn into feeders for the birds.

Pinecones — Collected pinecones are often used for holiday decoration. After the festivities, turn them into hanging bird feeders. A popular project for kids, the pinecone feeder is simple and quick. How To: Select a large pine cone that has opened. Tie a string to an end of the cone. I prefer to attach the string to the bottom (larger) half but whatever is easiest for you will work. You will now "stuff" the cone with something sticky. It can be as simple as peanut butter or store-bought suet. You may prefer a more complex homemade mix of peanut butter, oats, cornmeal, nuts and fruits. After your sticky substance coats the cone, roll it in birdseed of your choice. You're ready to hang it for the birds to enjoy. Best of all, when it's "empty" you repeat the process!

A halved coconut shell is popular with the small birds.

Suet logs hold peanut butter or suet.

Roll a corn cob in peanut butter and seed for a treat.

An old window screen makes a nice large platform feeder.

A hanging basket with a carryout container (or use screen mesh) offers tasty seed.

The base of a chicken feeder makes an excellent jell and orange feeder.(photo by 'dellrose')

Perk up! This old coffee percolator is a favorite in 'dellrose's' yard. (photo by 'dellrose')

Pine tree trunk in the wildlife habitat of 'GrannyGrunt'. (photo by 'GrannyGrunt')

Coconuts — A tropical twist for your birds. I've found this feeder to be popular even though it only has room enough for two birds. How To: First you'll need to crack the shell remove the "meat" from inside the coconut. You may have already done this for your eating pleasure. If not, begin by cracking the coconut in half on it's "equator". There are a number of web sites that show how to do this, with varying techniques (see below). I prefer to drain the juice first then use a saw to more evenly split the coconut. Removing the meat is easily achieved with a blunt knife. Lightly sand any rough edges of the coconut. Drill three holes in a triangle pattern about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edge of the coconut. Also drill three or more holes in the bottom of the shell for drainage. If you are going to use a small seed mix, also glue in a small piece of screen to keep the seed from spilling out the bottom. Now you're ready for the hanging material. You may use twine, fishing line, chain, wire or anything with moderate strength. Fill with seed, berries, nuts or suet and watch the birds enjoy!

Suet Logs — If you've recently trimmed some bushes or trees, save a few logs in the 3-inch diameter range. Attach an eye hook to one end then with a large paddle bit, drill partially into the wood in varying locations along the length of the log. Fill with suet and hang.

Corn Cobs — Some time last year, a resourceful person on the Bird Watching Forum gave me another recycling tip. When the squirrels have finished all the corn off of the cobs that I provide them, dip the cob in peanut butter, then roll in seed. Fortunately, I have a platform feeder with a spike in it to attach a cob!

Household Items

Clean out the cupboards and shelves and you're likely to find items easily transformed into new bird feeders. Gather the kids to make feeders out of plastic bottles and jugs. It's a quick and easy project with great results. Here are a few other items you can turn into feeders:

  • Window screen make nice, large platform feeders.
  • Pie pans may hang from a tree or hook and hold seed, suet or nesting material.
  • Hanging wire baskets are good for fruit or suet and can be lined to accommodate seeds.
  • Wire baskets and milk crates can be transformed into mealworm cages.
  • Mesh produce bags such as those for onions hold suet and nesting materials.
  • Hardware cloth or other wire with small holes may be turned into nut silos.
  • Dinnerware and cookware can be fashioned into decorative feederss. Tea cups mounted on copper tubing or hanging from a tree make a charming addition to the garden.

Garden and Farm Items

Check out the garage or barn for more items to use for the birds.

Chicken Feeders & Waterers — Old chicken feeders make good seed feeders, while the trays from waterers are perfect as oriole feeders.

Feed Pans — Metal feed pans are good for water or food. Drill holes to hang it from a tree or set it on the ground for ground feeders.

Mailbox — Old mailboxes provide cover for smaller birds. Remove the back end and leave the door down to create a fly-through feeder.

Wood Scraps — Use scraps of wood to build platform, hopper or fly-through feeders. See the end of this article for feeder plans.

Old Trees — If you have the means or desire, take an old tree trunk and install it in your yard. DG Member 'GrannyGrunt' happily accepted her neighbor's old pine tree and cemented it in her backyard habitat. The result is a wonderful spot for birds to stop and perch. She'll also mount suet to this tree.

Temporary items

Some items won't last long in the garden but are fun or convenient to use.

  • When the growing season is over, turn your hanging flower basket into a feeder.
  • Fill orange and grapefruit halves with seed, suet or berries and hang from trees or hooks.
  • Cut a hole in the larger side of a Chinese takeout carton for to make cute hanging feeders.
  • Another great kid's project is to use paper milk or juice cartons as feeders.

Bird Baths

Providing water all year round is important. What item can you fill for them? Whether stacked on top of each other or placed on the ground, plant saucers (clay or plastic) are a quick way to provide water. Old-fashioned metal pie plates add a country feel to the garden and are shallow enough for smaller birds. You can even use spare garbage can lids for water!

Nesting Material

Combing your dog? Save that fur for the birds. Pet hair is a great nesting material. Grab a basket or saucer and fill it with other goodies that the birds will happily use for their nests. Then take a walk in the neighborhood to see where your items wind up! Skip the dryer lint, though; it's not good for them.

Here are a few suggestions for what to offer:

  • Pet hair from sweeping the floor or brushing your pet
  • Seed "fluff" from milkweed, thistle or cattails
  • Yarn and twine. Unravel the thicker type
  • Spider webs are used by many birds.
  • Snakes shedding their skin in your garden? Throw the skin in the nesting material. Believe it or not, some birds use it for nests.


Bird Houses

Many items may also be used to create bird houses. A recent trend is to turn an old pair of cowboy boots into a bird house. Bird houses may use household items like an old water handle for perches. Wicker baskets are often used for houses and roosting pockets. Old tin, pine cones or shingles make attractive wood house roofs.

Take a tour through your house, garage and garden to see what items you may use for the birds. Think about what would look good in your garden and could have a practical application. You never know when you'll find the perfect item that your birds love. You'll save money and keep items from the landfill!

How to Build a Dinnerware Bird Feeder

What you'll need:

  • Dinnerware (Base, Cover and Dish)
  • Drill and Ceramic Bit
  • Safety Glasses
  • Glue
  • 6-strand galvanized wire rope for hanging (20-gauge)
  • 3-inch pieces of aluminum wire (20-gauge) (9 pieces)
  • Small piece of screen
  • Hanging ring (key chain ring or other)
  • Large Buttons (3)
  • Beads
  1. Select ceramic dinnerware from a thrift store or your own collection. I had an old set that I was "saving" for some reason or other. Ceramic is much easier to drill than porcelain china, so keep that in mind while making your selection. You'll need a base, a cover and something to hold your seed.
  2. Drainage holes. Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the bowl. Center the bowl on the base and using a marker or pencil, mark the base by using the bowl's holes as a guide.
  3. Hanging holes. You will be drilling three holes around the perimiter of the base and in the flat part of the cover. It may help by creating a pie graph divided in thirds as a template. Mark the holes on the base towards the edge, but inset the cover a bit more. Drill holes.
  4. Mount the bowl to the base. Line up the drainage holes in the base and the bowl and glue the bowl to the base. Glue in a small piece of screen over the holes to keep small seed from falling through the drainage holes.
  5. Cut the wire. Cut three 20-inch pieces of wire. You may need more or less depending on the size of your dinnerware.
  6. Add bottom beads and stoppers. String one bead onto the end of each wire. At one end of the wire, separate the strands slightly and bend each one over the bead. Using a needle nose plier, squeeze the wires down as much as you can. Wrap a piece of aluminum wire around the loose rope wires. Repeat for each hanging wire. Run each piece of wire through the base holes.
  7. Make the cover stoppers. Determine where the cover will sit, based on the size of your bowl. In this example it is 8 inches. Measure each wire and mark that location accordingly. Wrap an alumnium piece of wire around each of the hanging wire at the marked location. This will need to be a very tight wrap so it won't slip. Add a bead and the button (you may need to drill a hole in the button if the existing holes are not large enough for your wire). Repeat for each wire.
  8. Install the cover. Thread the wire through each of the cover holes. String a few beads on each wire.
  9. Make the hanger. Attach each hanging wire to the hanging ring by bending the wire over the ring. Wrap a piece of aluminum wire around the loose ends of the hanging wire. Repeat for the other two wires.
  10. Hang and enjoy! Fill the bowl with seed and hang from a tree or hook.

Note: If you have the ability to hang your project as you work, you may wish to assembie the hanging wire in reverse of these instructions. Doing so will allow you to level out the cover and base without measuring.

More Reading

Dave's Garden Articles

Recycle Your Christmas Tree! Make a Peanut Butter Feeder from a Section of its Trunk to Attract Birds to Your Garden

Autumn Birds: A To Do List for Your Bird Café

Winter Survival for Northern Birds

What to Feed Backyard Birds

Attracting Feathered Friends with Backyard Birdfeeders

Bird Feeder and House Plans

Birdhouse Plans

Bird feeder plans:

Cracking Coconuts:

Cowboy Boot Birdhouse: