Recycled Bird Feeder

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A recycled birdfeeder made from plastic bottles. [1]

Learning Objective

Biologists and researchers often use lures and environmental advantages to set up a location for observing wildlife. A birdfeeder is a great way to draw birds to a location so that you can watch them. If you create a feeder using reused/recycled materials, you not only provide food to local wildlife, but you also help our planet.

The “challenge” part of this activity can come in any form you want! You could create one design and record the bird attendance and then challenge yourself to create a new one that may attract or hold even more birds! You could also base your challenge around creating a feeder that attracts the most different kind of birds. It is up to you! You can start by creating a single feeder, or several with different features.  Put your feeder(s) outside and gather data on their efficacy at accomplishing your challenge.

The final piece is a functional bird feeding station built with recycled materials and/or found objects. You can extend this project by allowing students to design and 3D print parts of their feeder. Think about constraining the amount of 3D printing by weight or material usage in the software. You may choose to constrain the design challenge by giving students a budget and having them “buy” recyclable materials and 3D printing material.

Estimated Length

2-3 hours class time


For class

  • Various recyclables
    • The fun part of this project is to challenge students with unique materials and materials that will need transformation. The stranger the material, the better. However, you will most likely want to use recyclable materials that are light enough to hang from a tree. Think cardboard, plastic, even aluminum cans. Have them consider the implications that the weather might have on their feeders. You may also choose to provide materials that would not be good like paper or other biodegradables.
  • Various craft supplies (string/twine for hanging, glues, tapes, etc.)
  • Feeding supplies (peanut butter, birdseed, etc.)
    • Feeding supplies are dependent on the bird species the students choose. If focusing on research, the students will need to research what their chosen bird eats/is attracted to.

Overview of Steps

  1. Collect recyclable materials
  2. Research birds (optional)
  3. Explore materials
  4. Build feeders
  5. Students present their feeders
  6. Install the feeders outside
  7. Bird-watching/Data collecting
  8. Data presentation
  9. Feeder redesign and build (optional)

Setup & Planning

  1. You may choose to create an example of your own prior to introducing the project. If you have access to the outdoors, setup your feeder in a nearby tree for students to spot. Alternatively, you can test your students’ imaginations by NOT providing an example, thus, requiring them to come up with their own designs.
  2. Collect recyclables! Feel free to collect your own recyclables or follow the instructions under “Procedure” to have your students work on collecting recyclables as an ongoing extension activity.  
  3. Think about setting up your recyclables as a store for older students learning about budgeting. Sort and display your recycled materials (cardboard, cans, paper, plastic, boxes, “found object” etc.) as a store and price each category. Students can be assigned a budget and must come to you or a student volunteer to “buy” their materials. Teach students about pre-planning and you can have them submit a drawing of their feeder along with their budget and supply list.
  4. If not setting up the collected recyclables as a “Maker store” as outlined above, sort your materials out by type to make exploration easier. If you don’t have space to store separated recycled materials, think about keeping everything in a large bin. When class is in session, dump the mixed supplies on the floor and you can call it the “local dump”. In this setup, students can use their imaginations and try seeing materials in a different way.
  5. If you will be focusing on research as outlined below, think about choosing a group of local birds that students can pick from to research.



Optional Extension Activity: Recyclable Scavenger Hunt/Makerspace Recycling Program

As an optional activity, students can collect, sort, and organize their own Makerspace recycling program! Help students to organize classroom pickup of recyclables as well as sorting and organizing materials. Taking and keeping inventory of the materials can also be a rotating duty. Doing this will supply your Makerspace with endless materials and will also teach your students about reusing and upcycling materials. This can be an ongoing activity or even a club!

For a less large-scale activity about recycling, have the students complete a scavenger hunt in groups to get the materials for the activity. Have each group assigned a different category (plastics, cardboard, cans, paper, etc.) and send them out into the school to find materials. For younger students, you can have an aide or parent volunteer escort each group to different classrooms looking for the materials.

Introduce the Project

  • Start by explaining how important research is to product design. You can show examples of how certain products have been designed to fit the needs of their animal “customers”.
  • Take for example, a dog collar. A special type of dog collar called the Martingale collar was designed to better suit dogs whose necks are the same width as their heads. On a Borzoi or a Greyhound, a normal collar would simply slip right off. A Martingale uses a special tightening method to prevent this. From observing this original problem and researching the biology of different dog breeds, the Martingale was created.
  • In this project, research will be used to design a feeder that best attracts all birds or a specific breed of bird.

You may structure the research portion any way you choose (if the students will choose a specific local bird or just birds in general), but help steer the research towards the design by asking the students questions like the ones below:

  1. What food does your bird like?
  2. Are there any colors or textures your bird would be attracted to? Or ones that would repel them?
  3. Does the bird you chose have a predator with a shape you should avoid for your overall design?
  4. Depending on the size/shape of the bird’s beak, can the bird easily access the seed?
  5. Is there a certain height your feeder should be hung at? What type of tree should it hang from?
  6. Is there something you can do to your design to make it harder for animals other than your chosen bird to get the food?

You may choose to determine what data you will collect.  Some suggestions are:

  • Weight of feeder and food: this will tell you how much food has been removed.
  • Markings along the food supply container to show volume.
  • Number of birds or types of species observed over a period of time.
  • A scale rating the condition of the feeder. (ie. 3 points for perfect, 2 points for fallen pieces, 1 point for unfunctional but still aloft, 0 for a fallen feeder)


Once students have their research, it is time to begin the design process! Feel free to structure your class however you like, but refer to the general outline below for guidance:

  1. Material exploration day(s)
    1. Allow student some time to touch and feel the different materials. This is all they will be tasked with doing during this time. They make take notes on what materials they may be interested in. Also, allow them time to experiment with different taping/gluing techniques to test strength and longevity.
  2. Build day(s)
    1. These are the days the students will spend building their designs! As spoke about in earlier sections, think about having the students prepare a drawn design plan or list of materials ahead of time.
  3. Design presentation day(s)
    1. Students present their designs to the class and talk about the choices they made.
  4. Installation day(s)
    1. If installing the feeders on campus, these days will be spent helping the students hang them in trees. You can also choose for students to hang their feeders at their homes.  Note: students who reside in multi-unit buildings may not have the ability to use their feeders at home.
  5. Bird-watching/Data collecting day(s)
    1. Over the next few days or weeks, take students out to observe their feeders and make observations/take data –
      1. Is the feeder still hanging?
      2. Can you tell if any seed has been depleted? If focusing on depleted seed, you can weigh the feeders at this time or use the seed receptacle measurement markings to see how much seed was taken.
      3. Do you see any other signs that birds/animals have used the feeder?
  6. Data presentation days (redesign?)
    1. Have students present or talk about how successful their design was and why they think that is.
    2. If you want to extend this project, have students redesign their feeders for even more success!

Tips & Tricks

  • Prepare students for gathering accurate data! Think about suggesting that the designs include some sort of transparent receptacle for seed. This way, the students can record how much seed was eaten while the feeders hung in their trees. If the student designs do not have this feature, they can also weigh the feeder before hanging and after hanging.
  • If you do not have much access to the outdoors in your area, think about speaking to a local nature preserve to see if the feeders can hang somewhere on their grounds. You could plan a field trip to hang the feeders and another to bird-watch.
  • If students are not very interested in birds, you can potentially make the activity an animal-feeder (racoons, chipmunks, other local fauna). Just make sure you always speak to administration about potentially luring animals to school grounds! Of course, the students can also bring their feeder’s home to observe if school grounds are not viable. For this, stick to birds.
  • If using the feeders with any wild animals is not viable, think about tasking students with designing a feeder for a fantasy animal with specific morphology. Have them present on their feeder and imagined animal.

Additional Resources

Interested in more STEAM Project-based Learning resources? TinkRworks K-8 supplemental curriculum makes it simple to add hands-on STEAM education to your school. Learn more:

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