Winter struck early in my part of the upper Midwest. Fortunately, I was able to whip up a decent bird feeder in just a few minutes and at virtually no cost. The two visible in the photo have been in use year-round for over a year and are just as serviceable now as the day I built them; however, after a couple of years the plastic gets brittle and has to be replaced. The metal portions, made from a wire coat hanger, can be reused for many years, as can the dowel rod.
NOTE TO PARENTS, TEACHERS, ETC: This project should be simple and fun for children. A few steps, marked [BE CAREFUL!] in this 'ible, require the use of a sharp point to create various holes through the plastic jug walls. Once the starter holes are in place, blunt scissors could be used to make the windows, and an adult should supervise the cutting and bending of the wire, or perform those steps or prepare them in advance. The author neither assumes nor accepts any responsibility for injuries incurred in the construction or use of this 'ible.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
The feeder requires only a one-gallon plastic jug, a wire coat hanger, and a one-foot 1/4 inch diameter dowel rod (a suitable piece of stick could be substituted for the dowel). Dowel stock is available in almost any hardware store or home improvement center, as well as many hobby shops; a four-foot piece, suitable for four feeders, cost me less than a dollar at my local farm store.
The tools required are a pair of pliers and a scissors.
Step 2: Wire Work
- Begin by straightening the coat hanger, except for the "hook" end which used to go on the closet rod. It doesn't need to be perfect, just reasonably straight.
- Cut a six-inch section from the non-hook end of the straightened coat hanger and bend it into a rough semicircle with the ends bent in to be closer together than the neck of the jug.
- Use a sharp object [BE CAREFUL!] such as the point of one scissors blade to poke two small holes in the neck, below the cap and along a line perpendicular to the jug's handle. NOTE: if you're helping children build this project, a responsible adult should do this step.
- Snap the ends of the semicircular wire section (Step 2, above) into the holes which were poked into the neck of the jug, bending as necessary to form a hanger for the feeder.
- Finally, bend a two-inch sharp hook in the end of the coat hanger wire opposite the original hook. You should now have a sharp, narrow hook at one end of the wire, and a much larger curved hook at the other.
Step 3: Add the "Windows" and the Perch
- On each of the two sides of the jug opposite the handle, poke a "starter hole" about 3 1/2 inches above the bottom of the jug. [BE CAREFUL!] This type of jug almost always has expansion domes exactly where the feeding windows need to be, which makes it easy to center the holes.
- Using a scissors [blunt-pointed scissors work fine once the starter holes have been made] cut out a circular window about three inches in diameter on each of these two sides. The bottom of each window should be no closer than two inches from the bottom of the jug.
- About 1/2 inch below the bottom of each window [BE CAREFUL!] poke a hole just large enough to permit the dowel rod (perch) to push through tightly. If the holes are too small the plastic might crack when the dowel is inserted, but if they're too large the perch will be unstable and the birds won't use it.
Step 4: Filling and Cleaning
Filling the feeder could not be easier. Simply hold the jug by the handle, with the holes up (it's rotated too far in the picture - the handle should be at the bottom with the windows each at 45 degrees from the vertical), and pour in the amount of bird seed which will be required to fill the area below the holes when the jug is in its normal position. The feeder will accommodate any size seed, but I don't recommend tiny seeds like thistle seed. We use a mixture of millet, safflower, sunflower and peanuts in our feeders. The windows are also large enough to include small pieces of fruit if you wish.
Cleaning is also simple - most of the hulls and chaff left behind by the birds can be knocked out through the windows, and anything that sticks can be loosened by tapping the jug. The top cap seldom needs to be removed except when the feeder requires a thorough washing, after which supporting the jug with the open neck down lets it dry thoroughly. Then simply screw the cap back on, refill the feeder, and hang it up again.
Step 5: Hang and Enjoy!
The large hook at the end of your straightened coat hanger (remember that?) can hang nicely from a suitable tree branch, an unused flowerpot hanger, or any other point which puts the feeder out of reach of ground animals but within easy reach for filling and cleaning. Hang the feeder from the sharp hook you bent in the other end of that wire, placing or twisting the wire such that the windows of the feeder are visible from wherever you like to watch birds.
Our feeders are visited by a wide variety of songbirds; frequently we'll have more than a dozen Cardinals taking turns (not always politely) at the feeder. It is common to see two Cardinals or other birds on each feeder, one on each of the perches, with many more in nearby branches. It is unavoidable that some seed spills from these feeders, especially if a hungry Blue Jay visits, but there are always plenty of smaller birds (and often a few doves) happy to clean up the area beneath the feeders.
Remember: if you feed the birds, keep your feed fresh, and always have water available as well.