Introduction: Make a Flapping Bird Toy Out of Cardboard

This toy “bird” is easy to make and will work with many different proportions and designs. You can customize the shape of the body and the wings as long as the body weighs just a little less than the two wings combined. Try to have about the same amount of cardboard in the two wings as in the body. After making the toy you can have more fun decorating the basic design -- adding a head and tail and wing feathers or…. whatever your bird needs. I prefer the bird stripped to it’s essence.

Originally created for a kids workshop in a 2009 show I had at FACT in Liverpool -- the design was improved by the folks at FACT but none of us seemed to understand the basic principles at the time. This is a step up from 2009.

The design is not very original. These were popular years ago as painted wood bird sculptures. What I like about this one is that the “Bird” isn’t a bird and it doesn’t really flap it’s wings it works by weights and levers in an equilibrium which you disturb by pulling down on the body. The inertia of the movements of the parts sets up an oscillation that slowly decays and finally achieves equilibrium again.

Step 1: Gather Tools and Materials

--"View" the image to see all the stuff--

-Scrap plywood sheet to work on -- mine is 3/8” ply x 42” x 45”

-Cardboard from a mid sized box with no creases or folds in an area of ~22” x 30”

-dowel or wood stick ~3/4” square

- 2’ or 3’ Aluminum straight edge

-small Aluminum square

-Sharp Utility knife with spare blades

-Heavy duty Packing Tape

-ball point pen - med or large point and/or pencils -- Carpenter pencils shown

-String -- nylon twine # 18 more or less

-cigarette lighter to “cut“ nylon twine without fraying

-7-10 each ½” cut flat washers or similar small flat (to tape don easily) weights for balance adjustment


-drill with a 3/16” bit

Step 2: Cut Cardboard

Cut 6” wide strips out of cardboard -- cut 2 each at 18” for the Wings and 2 each at 14” for the body halves. Use light pressure on knife for initial scoring cut guiding it along the aluminum straight edge. Then make another cut or two with more pressure. The scoring cut will help guide the next cuts.

Step 3: Assemble the Body

-On the two cardboard body blanks: mark lines 1” in from 3 edges on one Body Blank and ¾” in from the edges on the second Blank.

-Score these lines with a medium ball point pen. Using the straight edge for a guide.

-Bend cardboard up along scores lines -- Fold cardboard in on the lines.

-Crease heavily so that cardboard fold easily maintains a right angle.

-Cut one side of each corner to make corner tabs.

-Bend up corner tabs and bottom flap.

-Position two body halves together with the ¾” line half beneath and under but outside the other so that they are nesting -- we are trying to form an open top box about 1" deep and 6" tall and 12" long.

-Tape long side together to form the box bottom.

-Fold in corner tabs and tape -- It helps to have pieces of tape already cut to size and ready

-Mark attachment points for wings ~3” in from each end on both sides of the body box.

Step 4: Add Wings

-Put tape on wing end and

-Attach to open side of body -- leave a 1/8” gap between wing and body for a more flexible hinge.

-Flip over and repeat for other wing

-Fold wing back the other way and tape onto inside of body box

-Repeat for other side

-Trim off any excess tape

Step 5: Add Weight --to Improve Inertia

-Mark a line on the bottom of each wing ~2” in from the wing tip

-Place 2 each ½” washers centered on the line and tape down -- repeat on other wing.

-Mark a line about 1.5” in from the bottom of the body and tape one washer to each side in the center

-Tape a third washer in the center on the bottom of the box

Step 6: Preliminary Balance

-Hold bird off the table by one finger under each wing and move hands until the bird wings are straight. These are your preliminary balance points --

-grab wings and mark this point on one wing -- measure to mark the other wing -- (unless you can mark them both with a pen in your mouth -- I'll have to try this!)

Step 7: Suspension Stick

-Cut a 20” length of your stick.

-Find exact center and drill a 3/16” hole.

-Measure the distance between balance marks on wings.

-Mark stick at one half this distance on either side of the center. Also make marks ¼” and ½” more as guides.

Step 8: Suspension Strings

-Cut two 46” pieces of twine -- use a cigarette lighter to burn through the twine to keep it from unraveling. Be careful of fingers and fire.

-Fold back ~ 28” of twine and tie an~ 14” non-slip loop in one end tie a small slip loop in the other. My non slip loop is a simple Overhand Loop knot and the slip loop is a basic slip knot. See


-Repeat for other string and adjust so that they are equal lengths overall

Step 9: Hang and Adjust Bird

-Place large loop over each wing and position where marks are

-Small loops on stick at marks furthest from center pull small loops tight onto stick

-Hang the stick (with the Bird on it) -- I used some tie wire going through the hole in the center of the stick.

-Adjust large non slip loops on wings until bird is balanced -- frowning helps

-Mark wings where strings hit wing

-Take bird out of big loops and notch wings at the marks

N.B. --It is important to Frown and Look Serious here -- Remember, you are making a Toy -- and nothing is more serious than Play!

Step 10: Re-Assemble and Adjust Pitch

-Adjust pitch so the bird is not leaning forward or back by slipping strings.

-Test Bird by pulling body down and letting it flap.

-If all is well, tape string to underside of wings and tape the loops on the stick (taping the strings onto the stick should probably have been done a lot earlier).

-You can add a string to the center of the bottom of the Body Box to ease the activation.

-Congratulations! you are done!