How to make a simple butterfly feeder

Attract beautiful butterflies to your outdoor area with our easy-to-make fruit feeder. 

Ideal for observing butterflies, this feeder will help you enjoy these enchanting insects even if you don't have a big garden or the time or resources to grow butterfly-friendly plants.

What is a butterfly feeder?

This feeder is designed to draw in butterflies for observation and photography using overripe fruit. It is suitable even for small gardens, patios or balconies.

The best way to help butterflies is to grow butterfly-friendly plants that will provide nectar to adults and food to caterpillars. Check out our article on how to attract butterflies to your garden for advice.

A painted lady butterfly with its proboscis unfurled to feed from a flower

A painted lady (Vanessa cardui) about to sip nectar from a flower. Butterflies have an all-liquid diet - they can't chew solid food. They use a modified mouthpart, called a proboscis, like a drinking straw. © RudiErnst/ Shutterstock.com

How to make a butterfly feeder

You will need:

a plate
a key ring
scissors
a tape measure
wool (or string)
over-ripe fruit

1. Cut six lengths of wool, each 2.75 metres long. Gather them and fold in half.

2. Push the folded end through the key ring to create a loop and pull the loose ends through.

3. Separate into six strands (each strand will include two pieces of wool).

The twelve pieces of wool separated out into six pairs

Step three

4. Measure 30 centimetres from the ring and tie a knot into each strand.

5. Below these knots, separate the wool into 12 strands, then bring together strands which are next to each other, leaving the outer strands until last. 

Pairing different pieces of wool and bringing the outer pieces together

Step five

6. Measure 20 centimetres below these knots and tie a knot in the two pieces of wool now paired together. Do this for each paired strand of wool (six knots in total).

7. Check the width of the plate at its widest point, measure this length below the second knot and tie all strands together in one big knot.

8. Place the plate in the wool hanger so that the final big knot is below the middle of the plate and the strands are spaced out around the edge. Hang in a sunny spot out of the wind.

Hanging the plate

Step eight

9. Add some overripe fruit - banana works well. Now watch and wait.

You may need to be patient. If you don't recognise the species you see, Butterfly Conservation's online tool can help you identify a butterfly. We've also included photographs of the most common UK garden butterflies below. 

Fun fact

Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet? Having taste receptors in their feet helps them find food such as overripe fruit. It also helps female butterflies find a plant their caterpillars can eat, which makes a good spot to lay their eggs. 

A comma butterfly on blackberries

Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) sometimes visit gardens to feed on fallen fruit and ripe blackberries © Ian Kirk (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for success

To maximise your chances of butterflies landing on your feeder, put it in a spot that is sheltered from the wind. Butterflies tend not to fly if it's wet or too windy, so check the weather forecast.

Museum scientist Katy Potts, who works on the Brilliant Butterflies project, suggests hanging the feeder in a sunny place. She says, 'Picking a nice warm day will give you the best chance of a number of butterflies being out on the wing as they prefer the warmer weather.'

A red admiral butterfly on the ground among autumnal leaves, feeding on rotting plums

A red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on overripe plums that have fallen to the ground © Ian Redding/ Shutterstock.com

Provide sliced overripe fruit like oranges, bananas, berries, pineapple, melon, pears and plums.

Katy adds, 'Mashed banana works really well. You can also try mixing banana with a little bit of water to make a paste - it allows them to feed a little easier using their tongue-like mouthpart, called a proboscis. Oranges and watermelon are good options too.'

Butterflies are attracted to bright colours, so a pink, purple, white, orange or red plate may help.

Butterflies need water as well as food, so add fresh, clean water nearby. You could include a small saucer on your feeder to hold some water, with stones for the butterflies to rest on while drinking.

A butterfly on a leaf covered in water droplets

A common blue (Polyommatus icarus) drinking from rain droplets © Sonesa/ Shutterstock.com

When might you see most butterflies?

The main season for butterflies is April to July, however the feeder will likely be used in autumn too - food is scarcer then and some common garden species can be seen virtually all year.

You can attract more butterflies to your outdoor space by planting a flower or bush that they love. Buddleia, common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are all good choices. Even a small garden in a built-up area can support lots of different butterflies with the right plants. Butterfly Conservation has more tips on gardening for butterflies.

A colourful butterfly perched on purple lavender

A small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) on lavender, which butterflies find particularly appealing © Stephan Morris/ Shutterstock.com

A note on wasps

Butterflies are not the only insects who like overripe fruit. The insect feeder may also attract wasps and other pollinators such as hoverflies. While wasps have a bad reputation due to their sting, they play an important part in our ecosystem by preying on flies and spiders to feed to their young.

Find out more about the value of wasps >

If your fruit feeder is attracting more wasps than you're comfortable with, try moving it to a different spot or put it out at a different time of year.

What butterflies will you see?

Here are nine of the most common butterflies in UK gardens:

Big Butterfly Count

Every year, Butterfly Conservation organises the Big Butterfly Count to monitor how butterflies are faring and assess the health of our environment.

The next Big Butterfly Count takes place from Friday 17 July to Sunday 9 August 2020. Find out how to take part.

Fun fact

Did you know that butterflies are near-sighted? They can see up to about 3.5 metres away, but after that things get blurry. Butterflies can also see a range of ultraviolet colours which are invisible to the human eye. They use these colours to identify each other and look for potential mates.

British wildlife

Find out about the plants and animals that make the UK home.

Interesting Insects book

Interesting Insects showcases weird, wonderful and surprisingly beautiful insects from the Museum's collection.

You can buy the book from Waterstones and Amazon.