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How to make a bird feeder

Bring nature to your doorstep by keeping wild birds fed with a homemade bird feeder.

Follow our steps to build a seed feeder from a reused plastic bottle.

Not only do bird feeders bring more local birds into your garden so you can see them up-close, they provide an invaluable food source, particularly during times of year when resources might be scarce.

Bird species present in UK gardens change throughout the year, but there will always be some birds around looking for a tasty snack. A bird feeder can be great fun for getting to know different species and watching how they behave.

How to make a plastic bottle bird feeder

Different types of feed and feeder will attract different species. The homemade feeder shown in the video above is a quick, cheap seed feeder which can attract a wide range of common garden bird species.

Written instructions can be found below.

Alternatively, find out how to make fat balls to give birds the extra energy they need to survive winter.

Before you start

Take care when cutting into plastic bottles. Sharp plastic can cause cuts, both for you and the birds you'll be feeding. Feathers can also get caught on jagged edges, so try to make the holes in the bottle as smooth as possible.

You will need two sticks to use as perches. These need to be wider than the bottle by around 10 centimetres, so there is enough space for birds to perch on each side.

As with any bird feeder, plastic bottle feeders can be cleaned with warm, soapy water. This type of feeder won't last forever, however, and should be replaced every so often. This prevents a build-up of rotting food and bacteria that could harm the birds using your feeder.

Where possible, please clean and recycle your plastic bottles.

Two birds watch homemade plastic bottle bird feeder from a distance

Making a bird feeder from a plastic bottle is a quick and cheap way of attracting more birds to your garden

To make a bird feeder, you will need:

  • a plastic bottle (with cap)
  • two sticks
  • a pin
  • scissors
  • string

1. Remove the cap from a clean plastic bottle. Use the pin to puncture several small drainage holes in the base of the bottle.

2. Use the pin to make two level holes on opposite sides of the bottle, near to the base. Use the scissors to widen them slightly.

3. Push a stick through the holes. There should be around 5 centimetres of stick left outside the bottle on each side for the perches.

4. Slightly above each perch, use the scissors to cut a feeding hole the size of a 5p coin.

5. Create a second set of perches and feeding holes: repeat steps 2 to 4 further up the sides of the bottle and offset by 90° from the original.

6. Use the pin to make two holes in the neck of the bottle, on opposite sides and level with each other. Widen these with scissors.

7. Thread the string through the holes, then fill the bottle with a bird food and replace the bottle cap. You may need to make a funnel with a sheet of paper to make filling the bottle easier.

8. Find a sheltered location outside to hang your feeder - tying it onto a tree branch or washing line would work well.

9. Watch from a distance or indoors for birds to begin landing on your feeder. It may take a few days before this begins to happen.

10. Identify the birds that come to feed. You can use books, mobile apps and the internet to help you.

Joe hangs up a new plastic bottle bird feeder in the Museum's garden

It's best to hang your feeder within a short distance of trees and shelter, but away from shadowy areas where cats may lurk

Can you buy bird feeders?

A variety of ready-to-use bird feeders are widely available. You could look for them in pet shops, large supermarkets and online. Squirrel-proof feeders are available, as are feeders which only allow the seed to be accessed by smaller garden birds, so you get fewer pigeons, which can be a pest in some areas.

There is a large variety of bird food available - some has general appeal while others are preferred by certain species. Mealworms are a good purchase for insect-eating birds such as robins and sparrows.

Sunflower hearts are popular with a wide variety of garden birds. Black sunflower seeds are another crowd pleaser. Suet balls and blocks are high-energy foods that can contain a variety of seeds, cereals and sometimes mealworms. They also generally create less mess on the ground, meaning you are less likely to attract unwanted rodents. You can also easily make your own fat balls by following our instructions.

Seed mixes are another popular option, but they can sometimes leave a mess or even some additional plants in your garden. No-mess mixes are available that avoid these issues.   

A blue tit on a plastic bottle bird feeder

It was only around 30 minutes before a blue tit tested out the new plastic bottle feeder in the Museum's Wildlife Garden - however, it may take longer in your own garden

The homemade bird feeder we have described here is not suitable for peanut feeding. Peanuts aren't always suitable for birds - those for human consumption are often coated in large amounts of salt. Peanuts can also be a choking hazard, especially if adult birds feed them to their chicks, and in some cases they are toxic due to certain moulds that can grow on them.

If you do want to feed peanuts, however, make sure to use a specialist feeder designed specifically for peanuts, purchase bird-feed peanuts only and clean your feeder regularly.

You should regularly empty and clean all feeders to help keep the birds in your garden healthy. Most feeders can be cleaned with warm, soapy water. 

How to get the most from your bird feeder

Watch out for cats. Birds at a feeder are an easy target. Hang the feeder away from shadowy areas where cats may be lurking, but make sure it's still within a short distance from trees and bushes.

It may take a while, perhaps a few days, before you regularly see birds at a new feeder. Keep the feeder filled and eventually they should begin stopping by.

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch takes place every January. You can take part by keeping watch for avian garden visitors and recording what you see. The data you collect helps experts understand how birds across the UK are doing.

To help identify what you've seen, the iNaturalist app (available on Apple's App store and Google Play) suggests identifications based on your photos. You can also log the species you see.

If you're in the UK and are having trouble identifying a bird, you can send your photos to the Museum's Identification and Advisory Service. Sending details of where and when you spotted the bird will also help.