Introduction: Black Birds on the Cheep
If you've always wanted to fly a murder of crows (or an unkindness of ravens) over a Halloween yard scene, and have been put off by the price tag, here's a VERY inexpensive way to make enough birds for your flock for just about the cost of ONE of the store bought birds.
NOTE: This Instructable doesn't cover birds with legs and feet, so these are really only suited for flying.
Step 1: : Gather Tools and Materials
Items marked with an asterisk (*) are essential, the others are helpful, but not necessary
* Heat Gun - I'm sorry, a blow drier won't work... tried it on high with a lot of patience but no success
*Scissors - there's a good deal of cutting going on here
Hot Glue Gun - you could probably get away with school glue, but you would have to wait for it to dry
Pliers - you could do the little bit of bending you do with them by hand, but my fingers aren't that strong
Awl - any strong, small poking device would work - like a corkscrew, a skewer, a mechanical pencil tip...
Crochet Hook - if you have really long dexterous fingers, you probably won't need this. I have sausages.
This materials list is for 1 bird. Most of these can be found, scrounged, scavenged, or gifted to you...
1 Cheap wire hanger - free from a Dry Cleaner, or Joan Crawford
3 Popsicle sticks - if you're not in the mood for frozen treats, I found a pack of 100 at the dollar store - $0.03
1 Hot Glue Stick - you won't even use the whole thing (see comment above about hot glue gun) - $0.10
1 Toilet Paper Tube - ... - free
1 Rubber Band - check with your local post office, if you don't have one kicking around. I needs to be long enough to extend about the length of a toilet paper tube - free
1 chunk of cardboard - you could use just about anything that has some body - free
3 plastic shopping bags - other materials will work too: aluminum foil, newspaper, pretty much anything that's light and pliable - free
1 roll of electrical tape - ANY tape will do, I just like electrical tape because it isn't super sticky, and it's black, and relatively inexpensive. You only actually need about a yard of it at the most, so maybe you could beg some off a guy at Home Depot... but if he says no, you can get a whole roll for $2
1 large black plastic garbage bag - one bag will make 2 birds, so really you only need a half of one, but unless you're into Trashion, I don't know what you'd do with the other half $0.20
So, for under $2.50, you've got all the materials for one bird, and most of a roll of electrical tape.
Step 2: : Prep - Top to Tail
Tools: Hot Glue Gun, Scissors, Awl
Materials: Popsicle sticks, Hot glue stick, Cardboard
I suppose you don't HAVE to do this first, but having it ready once you're building is really helpful. Also, if you're doing this with old fashioned glue (as opposed to hot glue) for the tail it's going to need time to dry. Also, if you're making a whole flock of birds, you're definitely going to want to have these ready and waiting.
Making the Tail
Decide how broad you want your tail to be. Lay down the center stick first, and put a small glob of hot glue on it, and place one of the side sticks on top of that. Put down another glob of hot glue, and put the last stick on. Set it aside until you're ready to use it.
Making the Beak
Using the scissors, cut a diamond that's roughly 2 inches long by 1 inch wide. Fold it in half from tip to tip. Unfold that and fold it in half from side to side. Then refold it tip to tip, and bend it along the fold marks in the middle. Using the awl, pierce a hole a couple of millimeters in from the folded edge. Set the beak aside until you're ready to use it.
NOTE: You can also make an open beak (in which case you won't necessarily want to fold the bottom of the beak in the same direction as the top. If this is the case, fold the top and the bottom separately, with the opening of the fold on the inside of the beak.
Step 3: : Dem Bones - Shaping the Skeleton
Tools: None, or Pliers
Materials: Wire hanger
Creating the Head
Start by twisting the hook of the hanger 90 degrees, so that it's perpendicular to the body of the hanger
After it's twisted, bend the hook upwards, to raise the head "above" the body. When you do this step, part of the twist below the hook of the hanger will probably poke into the curve of the head. This is good. It will help keep the head stuffing in place later in the process.
NOTE: The curved part of the hanger hook will be the top of the bird's head. This is important to keep in mind as you begin to shape the wings.
Making a Neck
Pay no attention to the plastic bag that is in the head area in the picture. I got ahead of myself...
Just below the twisty part of the hook, there's a small section where the body of the hanger bends up to meet the hook. I call this the neck. About an inch or so on each side of the neck, there are shoulders.
Place your thumb at the corner where the neck meets the shoulder, and bend the wire so that the end of the shoulder comes up alongside where the neck begins to twist into the hook. Do this on both sides.
This moves the head of the bird closer to the body, and stops your crow (or raven) from looking like a goose.
Shaping the Wings
Decide the amount of arch you want in the wings, and bend the hanger on each side of the neck to create that arch. I like to give some of my birds tipped up wing tips, to make it look like they are adjusting to the wind, for soaring.
The really important part of this step is to try to mirror the bends you make on the top part of the body of the hanger with the bends you make on the bottom part. Otherwise, your bird is going to be kind of lopsided.
You can experiment with bending the center of the bottom part of the body of the hanger both toward and away from the neck - this will change the way the body and the tail situate themselves later on.
NOTE: While it's important to get the overall feel for the shape of your bird's wings during this step, there's a lot of room for tweaking after the bird is completed. This is NOT true of the neck.
Step 4: : Attaching the Beak
Materials: Beak, Electrical Tape, Hanger Skeleton
Getting it On
Cut a roughly 8 inch piece of electrical tape off your roll. Then gather up your prepared beak and the hanger.
Feed the beak onto the head, it doesn't really matter where it ends up, it's just helpful to have it on there. Be sure to put the hanger through the top of your beak first.
Once the beak is on the hanger, grab your pliers and tighten them on the wire about 1/4 of an inch in from the end. Bend this to a 90 degree angle, pointed away from the body of the bird. This creates a mounting platform for the beak, and helps secure the beak, so that it doesn't slide off the head.
I find that if you use a "tight" twisting motion with your wrist, you won't deform the shape of the head while you're making the platform.
Securing and Covering the Beak
Move the beak down to the platform you just made and place the electrical tape across the platform and around the beak. From here, wrap the entire beak with the tape, being sure to make one or two passes over both the platform and the head of the hanger, behind the beak. This will help stabilize the beak in future steps. Once the beak is covered, give it a final shaping and you're ready to move on to the next step.
NOTE: If you are making an open beak, you will need to wrap both the top and the bottom completely, to ensure your beak won't be damaged by inclement weather.
Step 5: : Body and Tail
Tools: Crochet hook, or none
Materials: Rubber Band, Toilet Paper Tube, Hanger Skeleton, Tail, Electrical Tape
In this step, the toilet paper tube will become the body of your bird.
Feed the beak through the rubber band and move the band down to the neck of the hanger.
Put one end of the toilet paper tube at the base of the neck, with the other facing the where the tail will go.
Use your crochet hook (or your fingers) to reach through the tube and hook or grab the rubber band.
Pull the rubber band through the tube.
Once the rubber band is all the way through the tube, slip a finger through it to hold it in place while you grab the tail.
Slide the center popsicle stick through the rubber band, and slide the rubber band to where the three sticks join.
You can now allow the tail to slide into the tube, or you can adjust it so that the tail is sitting on top of the tube.
Secure the tail and tube to the center of the bottom part of the body of the hanger using tape.
NOTE: Though the photos show the center popsicle stick on the bottom side of the tail, it's usually easier to secure if the center stick is on top. I was really tired when I did this... lesson learned. Also - holy cow are my fingernails filthy.
Step 6: : Put a Head on It and Then Beef Up Your Bird
Materials: Electrical Tape, Shopping bags, Hanger Skeleton
Use your Noggin
Wad up one of the plastic shopping bags, and jam it into the hook part of the hanger. You can be fancy about it, and wad it up so that there's enough smooth stuff to make a kind of skin for the head, but it's not necessary. For photos of the head in place (where it shouldn't have been) kindly reference Step 3.
Without a little padding along the tops of the wings (especially near the neck) your bird will look a little skeletal and more like a weird bat. I find it helpful to have strips of electrical tape precut and ready for use during this step. Flatten a plastic grocery bag on your work area. At the bottom of the bag, fold the corners to the center, and then fold it again to make it narrower. If you've ever made a paper airplane, this step will seem very familiar. Fold the whole bag in half lengthwise. Tape the center of the bottom of the shopping bag to the top of the wingtip of your first wing.
Hold the bag so that it runs almost parallel to the top of the wing, and wrap the bag around the hanger. This should create long rather narrow wraps, leaving the padding at the end of the wing fairly thin, and providing more bulk along the shoulder area of the bird. Wrap all the way to the neck, and tuck the end of your bag (the handles) into the toilet paper tube below the neck. This will create some bulk in the breast of your bird.
Repeat on the other wing.
NOTE: You may also use packing paper, news paper, garbage bags, or even scrap fabric (those socks that always come out of the dryer missing their mate?) in this step. Also - as a matter of preference, you can pad the body, to give the bird more bulk. I have made them both ways, and the difference is noticeable, but not extreme.
Step 7: : Show a Little Skin
Tools: Heat Gun
Materials: Black plastic garbage bag, Bird Frame
This is where things start to get fun, and your bird really starts taking shape. You will be using the heat gun from this point on. If you have a dual temp heat gun, I recommend using it on low until you get a feel for how quickly your garbage bag melts and shrinks.
Haul out your Garbage (bag)
If you are using a drawstring bag, you might want to cut the top off now. It's not a necessary step, but I do it. I'm not sure why.
Cut the bottom quarter of the garbage bag off, then cut it in half, perpendicular to the seal at the bottom of the bag. You'll be using one of the corners to cover the head and shoulders of your bird.
Snip off the very edge of the corner of the bag, making a small hole that's just big enough for the beak to poke all the way through.
Turn the bag inside out, so that the flappy edges of the seam are on the inside. This will ensure that your bird doesn't have a seam running along its head anywhere. Again, this isn't necessary, since these birds aren't meant for up close inspection, but it's still nice to do.
Poke the beak through the hole in the corner, and smooth the rest of the garbage bag over the shoulders and body on both the top and the bottom.
Grab the bird by the tube body, holding the plastic in place, but not taut.
Hold the heat gun aimed away from your hand, about 6 to 10 inches away from the surface of the bird, and working the heat gun in a gentle side to side motion, slowly heat the plastic around the head, allowing it to melt and shrink until the garbage bag is tight all the way around the head.
NOTE: If you hold the heat gun in one place for too long, the plastic will melt through completely, creating a hole in the skin of your bird. While this is not a tragedy, and you can repair this by covering it with another piece of plastic and melting them together, it is completely avoidable. Watch how your plastic behaves, and keep the heatgun moving.
Hold the bird by the body for a few seconds to allow the head to cool. Then, either place the bird on your protected work surface, or hold it by the head (with the body hanging down) and use the heat gun to melt/mold the remainder of the garbage bag to the shoulders and body of your bird.
Allow the plastic to cool before touching it.
Do not touch the end of the heat gun to the plastic.
Do not touch the end of the heat gun with your hands.
Do not test to see if the heat gun is working, by blowing it at your hand. It's a heat gun. It gets hot.
Step 8: : Add a Little Tail
Tools: Heat Gun
Materials: Black plastic garbage bag, Bird Frame
Lay it Out
If you are making more than one bird, you will want to use the other corner of the bottom of the bag for another set of head and shoulders. If you are only making one bird, you can use that other corner for the tail. In the photos above, I am not using the other corner.
Cut another quarter from the bottom of your bag (although now it doesn't really matter if it's the bottom or the top, and if you can tell the difference you're way ahead of me). Also, cut it in half along the middle between the two sealed edges.
Lay your plastic down and place your bird on top of it, with the bottom of the tail along the seam.
Fold the other half of the plastic over the top of the tail.
Starting from the bottom of the tail, use your heat gun to melt the plastic over the popsicle sticks. As you work your way toward the body, focus the heat on the center of the plastic, allowing the top of the tail plastic to melt onto and adhere to the plastic that's covering the body.
Give it a few second to cool, and fold the unmelted bag over the plastic you melted onto the tail. This will give your tail a nice shape.
Use the heat gun to melt the folded pieces onto the plastic you have already melted over the sticks of the tail.
Allow this to cool for a few moments, then flip your bird over.
The tail should be mostly adhered to the other side, but you will have a flap of unmelted plastic at the top (near the body of the bird).
Use the heat gun to melt this to the plastic that is covering the body of on this side.
Don't be concerned if there are still parts of your bird's body without plastic covering them, this will be taken care of in the next step.
Just be sure that the tail is completely covered.
Step 9: : Just Wing It
Tools: Heat Gun
Materials: Black plastic garbage bag, Bird Frame
On a Wing and a Prayer
You're in the homestretch now.. You should have about half of your garbage bag left now. Again, cut it in half between the side seams of the garbage bag, and set the other half aside.
Lay this sheet of plastic out on your work surface, and align the bird frame in the center. You may want to fold your plastic over the bird to be sure there's enough to cover from wing tip to wing tip. If this won't work with the wings squared to your edges, you can position the bird so that the beak and tail are facing corners instead of edges.
Cut a hole large enough for the bird's head to fit through in the center of the plastic, and drape it over the bird.
Check to be sure that all of the remaining wire frame will be covered by plastic.
Smooth the plastic from the neck of the bird along the wing, and hold it in place to cover the wing tip. Use a quick blast with the heat gun to mold the plastic firmly over the end of the wing, and repeat on the other wing.
Once both wing tips are covered and secure, heat the plastic along the top edge of the wing to melt it to the plastic that's already there from covering the head.
Now wrap one side (front or back) of the plastic around the bottom of the skeleton frame of the wing, and heat it to melt it in place. Repeat on the other wing.
Flip the bird over and melt the remaining plastic to the bird, ensuring that all the seams are sealed up and none of the wire frame is showing.
If you missed a spot, don't worry, you can use more plastic, and melt it into place with the heat gun to cover any holes.
Step 10: : Installation, Exultation, and a Little About My Inspiration
As I said at the beginning, these birds have no legs or feet, because they're really meant for hanging. While I can't tell you the best way to do that, I will share my way.
I used mono-filament fishing line to create a sort of harness for each bird.
Harnessing the Birds
Tie a loop of fish wire around the bird's head, knotting it securely at the neck, on the bird's back.
From the knot, run the line down the bird's back, and tie another loop around the tail, knotting it securely at the point where the tail meets the body, also on the bird's back.
From this knot, run a free length of fish wire, cut it from your spool, and tie the end to the knot at the bird's neck. The length will determine how far the bird will hang from whatever you are hanging it from.
I did some of these rather short, and others fairly long. For the long ones, I slid my finger along the length of fish wire until the bird hung at the angle I wanted, and used that spot as my center point, to double the fish wire down it's length to just about where it met up with the bird. Then I tied a knot near the bird's body. I did this to help ensure my bird didn't get tangled up in its own support wire.
Hanging the Birds
I threw extra long lengths of 25 pound test fishing line wrapped around sticks from an upstairs window; I left the ends of each line secured around a long paint stirring stick in the room upstairs. Then, I fed the line through the bird harnesses, and then (to avoid humiliation) asked my boyfriend to throw the sticks into the trees in the yard, leaving enough length for the line to lay on the ground while I secured the birds. He tightened the line around the trees with hangman's knots, and I secured the line of the birds' harnesses to the fly lines using split-shot fishing weights.
Once all of the birds were securely fastened to the fly wire, I went back into the house, and pulled each of the lines tight by wrapping them around the paint stick.
Then we taped the whole thing up with a mess of duct tape (do NOT rely on the window to hold your paint stick and fishing line securely!) and sat back to admire our work!
And Just HOW the HECK I came up with this Idea...
I want to give mad props to Allen Hopps of Stiltbeast Studios for sharing the heat gun and plastic technique on his YouTube channel. He has been an inspiration (and mild addiction) for all things haunted.
Now, as Allen would say, quit reading and "Go Make Stuff!"