In your landscape, birds are like flowers that move. They have some practical benefits, too, like eating the bugs that eat your plants. Providing birds with a home is a great way to attract them to your yard and encourage them to stay. But instead of buying a pre-made bird house, you can make one easily and inexpensively from a variety of recycled materials.
Making a recycled bird house is a great family activity. But before you even begin gathering materials to construct one, you need to decide what type of bird you want to attract. Some birds, like robins and barn swallows, prefer an open nesting shelf to an enclosed house. Cavity nesters -- birds who'll move into a bird house -- include owls, swallows, ducks, bluebirds, purple martins, wrens and prothonotary warblers. The species of bird will determine the size of the house and entrance hole, where to drill the entrance and how high to mount the bird house.
Now, no bird carries around a tape measure when it's house hunting. It's unlikely any bird will reject your housing offer because it's an inch too big or slightly out of square. But it's good to keep in mind that different birds have different size requirements and aesthetic preferences.
For example, bluebirds like to nest 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters) above the ground in a box that's about 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) square and 8-12 inches (20-31 centimeters) tall. They need a small entrance hole, about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in diameter, and prefer it to be high on the box. If you want to attract a barn owl, however, you'll need a substantially bigger and taller rectangular box and a 6-inch diameter (15-centimeter) entrance hole that's near the bottom of the bird house, and you'll want to mount it 12-18 feet (3.7-5.5 meters) above the ground [source: Kress, Recycled Bird House Company].
How you mount the bird house is also important. Some birds don't mind hanging houses, but plenty of others want stability in the wind. Nailing the house to a tree is an option, but it damages the tree. A mounting post allows you to put the nesting box where you can see it. You can use wooden or metal posts, or PVC pipe. You can assemble PVC to telescope for cleaning ease. It's hard for squirrels and cats to get a grip on PVC pipe, too.
Recycled Bird House Materials
What you use to make your recycled bird house is limited only by your imagination, but here are some things to consider when you're casting about for materials:
- Will there be fumes? Pressure treated woods contain toxic chemicals like arsenic [source: Kress].
- Will the material rust or deteriorate?
- Does it have sharp edges?
- How well does the material insulate? Will it get too hot inside?
- Will I be able to clean it out?
Scrap lumber, plastic drain pipe, PVC pipe and ceiling fan blades make suitable structural materials for recycled bird houses. With very little alteration, you can repurpose well-cleaned 1-gallon (3.8-liter) paint cans, milk jugs, coffee cans or the newer plastic containers, old boots, stiff hats, faded wreaths, and fallen branches into bird houses. Even materials that will only last for one season, like cardboard milk cartons, make good shelters for some birds, such as prothonotary warblers [source: Kress]. Since these can be created with little more than glue and scissors, they're ideal recycling crafts for kids.
Look around your garage, shed, pantry and refrigerator, and you're sure to find more stuff that you can recycle into avian abodes. Your materials don't have to be uniform, and your finished product doesn't have to look like a house. As long as your recycled bird house has the depth and height required to accommodate the nest and growing-family activities of the birds, cavity nesters will appreciate a house that looks like a sunbonnet as much as they will one that looks like a little stone cottage.
See how to transform your recycled materials into a fabulous bird house on the next page.
Constructing a Recycled Bird House
Recycled bird house architecture varies wildly, but some aspects of construction are mandatory, while others are optional. Some bird house requirements include:
- Clean-out access
- Mounting mechanism
- Entry/exit opening
Optional items include:
The tools you use to craft a recycled bird house depend on your materials and the age of the bird house builder. In general, you'll need cutting, drilling and anchoring tools, which may include a drill, spade bit, screwdriver, Dremel cutters, scissors, saw, pliers, hot glue gun or staple gun, and rust-resistant hardware.
In bird house construction, cutting corners is good. Cutting the corners from the bird house floor helps rainwater drain out. Cutting corners at the top of walls allows air and light to filter in. Ventilation is critical for bird health, happiness and temperature control. Alternatively, you can drill or punch 3/8-inch (9.5-millimeter) holes around the top of the bird house and the perimeter of the floor. If you plan to mount your recycled bird house on a pole, leave the center of the floor solid. You'll attach a pipe flange, or an external rim used for strength, to the bottom of the bird house, and you don't want water draining into your mounting pole since it would fill the house up from the ground and flood the bird family out.
Fledglings climb up to the entry hole to exit the bird house, so attach something they can grip, like hardware cloth, on the interior wall below the hole. You can also make a platform from hardware cloth by bending down two opposite sides to make "feet." The platform lifts the nest off the floor for better drainage and helps protect fledglings from parasites like blowflies.
If you plan to use your recycled bird house for more than one season, build in a side or roof that you can open to clean out old nesting material and debris. Fortify the entry hole with copper pipe or a metal curtain ring to keep squirrels from chewing the hole bigger. Making the entry hole slightly tunnel-like will aid in keeping egg-stealing raccoons and nest-stealing starlings and house sparrows from reaching the nest. You can do this by attaching a 1.5-inch (3.8-centimeter) thick block of wood around the hole, or by extending the entry outward with pipe or PVC.
Construction inevitably leads to decoration. Keep reading to see how recycled materials become designer essentials.
Decorating a Recycled Bird House
A sturdy, well-ventilated house made from scrap items might suit a bird just fine, but you don't want your yard looking like you hung out the trash. So, it's important to camouflage your creation. Recycled and found items work great for this. Dig through your junk drawer, your hobby bin and the places where you put leftover "useful" stuff and all those things you're going to fix one day. Then let your imagination take off.
Gather some pretty pebbles, mix them up with grout, and convert a paint can into a stone cottage. Glue and salvaged buttons enliven a milk carton chateau. Bolt the blades of a non-working table fan to the handle-side of a milk jug, secure a pair of old skate blades to the opposite side, attach a funnel over the mouth, and you've got a helicopter habitat. Make a Three Little Pigs theme with a straw house (drain pipe encased in broom straw secured with wire); stick house (twigs glued to a milk carton); and a brick house (Lego block façade on a purple martin apartment house made from an old hip-roof metal tool box).
Old license plates or scrap corrugated metal make good roofs. Pine cone scales are ideal for roof shingles. Tree fungus, drift wood, old tools and drawer pulls become perches. Moss, shells, sweet gum balls and acorns applied as siding let your recycled bird house harmonize with nature. Or you can personalize your creation with decoration that reflects your hobby -- a checkerboard-painted roof and checkers for siding, porch and perch, for example; gears and motor parts that didn't seem to go back in when you fixed that clock; or a mosaic of broken china.
Making a recycled bird house can be a fun craft -- and an exercise in imagination -- for the whole family. Look on the next page for more information about birds and ideas for other recycled crafts.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bradley, Fern Marshall, ed. and the Editors of Yankee Magazine. Projects for the Birder's Garden. United States: Yankee Books, 2004.
- Dillon, Mike. The Great Birdhouse Book: Fun, fabulous designs you can build. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.
- Family Fun. "Bird Nesting Bag." Crafts. (Feb. 12, 2010) http://familyfun.go.com/crafts/home-garden-projects/outdoor-projects/bird-nesting-bag-672554/
- Gerhards, Paul. Birdhouses & Feeders You Can Make. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999.
- Kress, Stephen W. The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds, Second Edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.
- Needham, Bobbe. Beastly Abodes: Homes for Birds, Bats, Butterflies & Other Backyard Wildlife. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1995.
- Pelletier, Mark. "Brown's Foster Home Builds Birdhouses -- The Beginning -- 1997." Recycled Bird House Company. About Us. June 1997. Updated 2000. (Feb. 11, 2010) http://www.recycledbirdhouse.com/about.shtml
- Recycled Bird House Company. "Placement." Tips. (Feb. 11, 2010) http://www.recycledbirdhouse.com/placement.shtml
- Schwarz, Renee. Birdhouses. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press Ltd., 2005.
- Wetherbee, Kris. Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Other Winged Wonders to Your Backyard. New York: Lark Books, 2004.