Wildlife Projects for Kids: Milk Jug Bird Feeders

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Here’s a fun bird feeder project that you can do with kids of all ages. Depending on the age of the children, adults might have to help with cutting or working with wires, but decorating can be all kid!
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What I love about this project is that it gives a plastic milk jug a new purpose, while simultaneously helping wildlife, giving kids a fun activity to do, and connecting kids with nature.

milkjugfeedersA05-30-13Materials can vary, depending on what you have on hand and how you want to decorate your feeder. The one thing you’ll need for sure is a milk jug. Oh, and birdseed!

Materials:

  • Milk jug with cap
  • Possible decorations: stickers, bottle caps, milk jug caps, Sharpies or other permanent markers, outdoor acrylic paint, tape for making sharp edges
  • Possible tools: scissors, wire cutters, pliers, paintbrushes, garden pruners
  • Perch or roof materials: sticks cut to desired length
  • Possible adhesives or sealant: non-toxic outdoor white glue, Thermoweb Zots, Outdoor ModPodge
  • Possible hanging materials: bendable thick wire, wire clothes hanger, twine, thin rope
  • Birdseed, such as black oil sunflower seed

Steps:

1. Wash the inside of the milk jug and cap with soapy water. Rinse well. Try to remove the label — some will peel off easily, but others might be difficult (you can always choose to paint over the stubborn ones, or cut them out).

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2. Use scissors to cut “windows” into your milk jug. We liked using the larger sides opposite the handle. Don’t go too low or you will lose seed storage space. If you want to put in a perch, make sure you don’t go too wide with the window, either. Adults will need to help with this step for younger children.

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3. Using the pointier end of the scissors, carefully puncture two holes near the top of the jug for the hanger. Try to place the holes in the thicker plastic near the cap. Older kids can probably safely do this, but younger kids will need adult assistance.

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4. Cut your hanging material to your desired length and insert it into the holes. If using wire or a wire clothes hanger, use wire cutters to cut the length and pliers to twist the wire inside the milk jug to secure it. Adults will likely need to do this step, including twisting the wire. If using rope or twine, tie a secure knot inside the milk jug.

5. You don’t need to add a perch, but if you want one, there are different styles you can do. Again, parents might need to help younger children with this step.

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A resting perch along the lower edge of each window is a very attractive addition to the feeder. To do this, carefully cut slits to each side of the window — the slits should be a little wider than the thickness of the stick. Use garden pruners to trim your sticks to a length just beyond the slits (and trim off any little branches, too). Then maneuver the stick into each opening. Glue into place, including on the inside for extra stability.

milkjugfeedersfh05-30-13Another option is to create a long perch that goes through the corner. Cardinals especially appreciate this perch style (as seen in one of the first photos above). Again, glue it into place.

milkjugfeedersfg05-30-136. Before adding paint or other colors to your feeder, glue on any materials you desire. You can add a roof with small sticks, as shown, but be warned that it’s a challenge to adhere the sticks to the milk jug. You have to use a lot of glue, which can substantially add to your activity time because you have to wait for the glue to dry, possibly overnight. If you have the time, then go for it. We used Outdoor ModPodge to glue these sticks on.

milkjugfeederss05-30-13To adhere caps to the milk jug, consider using adhesive dots (such as Thermoweb Zots). To apply, press the cap first onto several dots (don’t touch the dots with your fingers); the dots will naturally lift off the paper. Then press the cap into place on the jug.

milkjugfeedersr05-30-137. Decorate your jug with stickers, permanent markers, or paint, letting everything dry in between stages (note: Sharpies and other permanent markers will eventually fade in the sun — if using these, keep your bird feeder in the shade).milkjugfeedersi05-30-13

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To create straight edges, use masking tape.milkjugfeedersh05-30-13If using stickers, place a thin layer of outdoor white glue over them to help secure them — the glue will dry clear.

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Because of the plastic used in milk jugs, adhesion is ever the challenge. For painting, we used outdoor acrylic paint with an Outdoor ModPodge layer over it to “seal” it — however, be forewarned that the result will feel mildly tacky to the touch. If you choose a different glue or sealant, be sure to check toxicity before using it with kids or letting wildlife near it. Also, younger kids might tend to go a little thick as they apply paint — this is fine but expect some of the paint to peel off when the feeder has been put to use by birds and squirrels.

milkjugfeedersp05-30-138. Finally, fill with birdseed and hang outdoors. It might take a couple of days for the birds to find your feeders, but squirrels might be happy to show them where it is!

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Prefer a birdhouse instead of a feeder? To convert this project to an easy birdhouse, simply cut one circle window out of one side of the milk jug, rather than two windows. To make the inside floor less slick (for baby bird leg growth safety), adhere a few tiny twigs or a few pine needles to the bottom.

Interested in other nature/wildlife activities for kids? Visit this page

28 thoughts on “Wildlife Projects for Kids: Milk Jug Bird Feeders

    • Karin, you are right about that. I found that cardinals went to feeders with both styles of perches, but preferred the one that stuck out. Blue jays like to hang off the feeder with the horizontal perches. House finches just sat inside, eating away. Chickadees liked the horizontal feeders, as did Titmice. And amazingly, the invasive House Sparrows did not like the milk jugs at all — I never saw them try (not that they wouldn’t eventually adapt, mind you) — anything to discourage their interest is good.

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  2. I am hoping our Kindergarten students’ classes soon will have opportunities to, as your above elaborate creations manifest, make bird feeders and bird houses from 1 gallon plastic milk, water, tea, etc. jugs. Curiosity leads me to inquire: are such plastic dwellings’ materials safe for birds? Any observations or records of birds nibbling, then ingesting, the plastic and becoming ill or dying? Please tell me your extensive findings, because these creative both feeders and dwellings are superb examples of the necessity to REUSE these containers that otherwise should be recycled. I’ll seek your reply email whenever you have fact-finding statements to tell me. Thank you very much.

    • I’ve never seen birds try to eat the plastic — the milk jugs don’t look like food. What you decorate it with is another story. I would avoid small plastic gems, sequins, etc., or plastic rope, yarn, etc., and be sure to use non-toxic paints and glues. Squirrels might try to eat the milk jug, I suppose, if it smells like bird seed, but I never saw one do that.

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  4. Spring is finally in the air here in the windy city and we are anxious to get back outside. After our Easter festivities are over my 3.5yr and 1.5yr old boys will be excited to have a fun outside activity to do. What a great way to get back into nature this Spring! Thanks for the idea.

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  13. Meredith,

    Good morning from the State of Utah! I don’t see any other way of getting a hold of you to seek your permission so I am using this forum. I am a District Leader for Cub Scout Den Leaders here in Tooele UT. One of my responsibilities is to provide a monthly handout. We would like to get your permission to use your bird feeder idea and picture in our handout. We would include your url address as a source of who provided the idea etc. Is this something you are willing to do?

    Thank you for your time,
    Adam

    • Hi, Adam — yes, if it’s not too late, you are welcome to use the photo and idea. Thank you for contacting me — if you get any pictures of cute feeders, I’d love to see them!

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