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Build a Bird Feeder and Study the Birds in Your Backyard!

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In this fun science project, you will create a bird feeder from recycled materials that you can set up outside. By observing the birds that come to the bird feeder, you will find out what different kinds of birds live in your area. How many different kinds of birds do you think you will spot?


Areas of Science
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)
You will need an adult helper to assist with handling the scissors or knife.
Svenja Lohner, PhD, Science Buddies


To build a bird feeder and find out what types of birds live in your area.


Did you know that there exist about 10,000 different types of birds in the world? You do not have to go far to see some of them. They live outside in backyards, parks, and even in busy cities! Maybe you have seen some of them in your own backyard! But do you know what kinds of birds live in your neighborhood? Have you ever taken a closer look at them and what they do in your backyard? Some of the ones you have seen might look like the birds shown in Figure 1 below. When you see them, they are probably looking for food, water, or materials to build their nests. This is because birds spent most of their waking time fulfilling their basic needs for food, water, air, and shelter. You can find more information on the basic needs of animals in the information box below.

Photo collage of nine different types of birds
Figure 1. Some examples of birds that you might find in your neighborhood.

People who study birds are called ornithologists. They try to learn as much as they can about each of the different types of birds. For example, they study what each bird looks like, what they eat, where they live and fly, how they sound, and much more. If you would like to learn more about the birds in your area, then building a bird feeder is a great way to do that. A bird feeder will attract birds, allowing you to get a close-up look without disturbing them. This project shows you how to design and build a bird feeder from recycled materials. Once built, you can set your bird feeder up somewhere outside, such as in your backyard. Then the bird watching begins! Which birds do you expect to see?

Technical Note: Animal's Needs

Every animal on our planet, including birds but also humans, need food, water, air, and shelter to survive. Animals need to eat regularly to get energy for their bodies to function. The kind of food an animal eats depends on the type of animal; some animals hunt or prey (carnivores) on other animals whereas others will search for foods like plants or fruits (herbivores) or eat both (omnivores). A wild bird's diet consists of plants, such as grains or seeds, and animals, such as insects, worms, fish, or meat from dead organisms. Each animal chooses to live where they can find the food that they need to survive.

Water is also important. An animal's body can consist of as much as 90% water. Most animals lose water when they sweat or exhale. In order to replenish their water supplies, they have to drink on a regular basis. Some animals that live in the desert, where there is not a lot of water, get most of their water from the food they eat.

Almost every animal needs air, or a special gas called oxygen that is part of the air. Even fish that live underwater need to take up oxygen with their gills. The oxygen is important to keep the processes in the body working. For example, oxygen is needed to make energy from the food an animal eats. As birds need lots of energy and oxygen for flying, they have special air sacs, in addition to their lungs, for breathing.

Shelter, or a protected place to live, is important for all animals. Each animal can only live at a certain temperature range. When the temperatures get too high or too low, an animal will die. A shelter will help them keep in the temperature range they can tolerate. In addition, a shelter is where wild animals can raise their young because it helps protect them from dangers such as predators. The type of shelter, or home, an animal is building or choosing for themselves can vary. Some animals build underground burrows, some build a nest in a tree, and others prefer to live in a cave. In the wild, birds build nests made of twigs and other materials as their shelter. This is where they lay their eggs and raise their young. Some birds also live in hollow trees.

Terms and Concepts



  • Peterson, R.T. (2002). A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston, MA. Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • eSchoolToday. (n.d.). The Basic Needs Of Living Things. eSchoolToday. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Here's an online guide to identify birds:

For help creating graphs, try this website:

  • National Center for Education Statistics, (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved June 25, 2020.

Materials and Equipment

Household materials used to build and decorate a bird feeder

A photo of household materials you can use to build and decorate a birdhouse that includes: a plastic jug, scissors, a wooden dowel, bird food, tape, paint, markers, glue, twine, paper, feathers, popsicle sticks, shells, rocks and wood chips.

Experimental Procedure

In this project, you will first build a bird feeder from recycled materials, and then you will watch the birds that visit your bird feeder.

Building Your Bird Feeder

  1. Clean out the milk or juice container with warm water and soap and, if possible, remove the label. Let the container dry out completely.
  2. Ask an adult to help you cut an opening into at least one side of the container, as shown in Figure 2. The opening should be at least one inch above the bottom of the container and at least three inches in diameter. If you like, you can cut openings in more than one side of the container. You can also decide what shape the opening should have.
Scissors cutting a hole in the side of a plastic jug
Figure 2. The opening on the side of the container should be at least three inches in diameter.
  1. Use some tape to cover the sharp edges of the container walls, so the birds don't get harmed when coming into your bird feeder.
  2. Decide where you want to insert a twig or wooden dowel (called a stick) into your bird feeder, so the bird has a place to sit. A good spot to place a stick is just under the doorway, creating a perch for the bird. You can also place a long stick inside the bird feeder that reaches from one side to the other.
    1. Have an adult helper poke holes into the container walls where you want the stick to be inserted.
    2. Then carefully push the stick into the holes.
    3. Use glue, or a glue gun to secure the stick in place.
  3. Birds look for water. Use the mini cup(s) to provide water for the birds. Glue one or more mini cups onto the floor of your bird feeder or onto the walls.
  4. Birds look for food. Prepare a place for your bird food. You can either put a paper plate into your bird feeder or put the food directly on the floor of the container.
  5. With the help of an adult, poke two holes on opposite sides next to the opening/cap of the container. Then thread the twine or thin rope through the holes as shown in Figure 3 and tie it together in a knot to create a handle. The handle makes it easier to hang the bird feeder into a tree over a branch if you choose to do so later.
Yarn threaded through holes at the top of a plastic jug
Figure 3. Yarn is threaded through holes in the top of the container to create a handle.
  1. Once you are done, decorate or color your bird feeder. You can use any materials you like as long as you keep it safe for birds. Safe choices are natural materials such as pebbles, shells, tree bark, etc. Think about what decoration would be best to attract the most birds. If you use paint on your bird feeder, let the paint dry before you use it, as the fumes created by drying paint or glue can be dangerous for birds and will scare them away.

Watching Birds

  1. Do some research on the types of birds living in your area and what they eat.
    1. Use an online field guide for birds such as this one that includes birds from the US and Canada. Look at the different birds that could live in your neighborhood. You can also go to your local library and get a bird field guide from there.
    2. Ask help from a local bird expert if you know someone.
  2. Print or copy a picture of the birds you expect to visit your bird feeder from your field guide and glue the pictures into your lab notebook. If this option is not available, write the names of the birds in your notebook.
  3. Place your bird feeder outside. Think about which location would be best for bird watching. You can, for example, hang your bird feeder in a tree using the twine handle you made.
  4. Fill the mini cup(s) with water and place the bird food into the bird feeder.
  5. Choose a period of 15 minutes every morning and evening to observe the birds that come to your feeder. Do this at the same time each day, for at least one week. Note that it might take a couple of days for the birds to get used to your bird feeder. If you don't see any birds at your feeder within a week, try a different location or extend your observation time. Here are some helpful tips for bird watching:
    1. Be quiet.
    2. Avoid sudden movements.
    3. Be patient!
    4. Try to not look into the sun. If possible, have the sun behind you to better see the birds.
    5. Avoid brightly colored clothes.
  6. In your lab notebook, make a table similar to Table 1. Then follow these steps for every observation session:
    1. Write down the number of birds of each breed that you observe into your data table. Make a tally for each bird. Every bird coming to the feeder counts, even if the same bird visits more than once. Add a new column to the table for each observation session.
    2. Try to find a picture of each bird you see in the field guide while observing them. If you have binoculars, use them to better see the individual features of the birds.
    3. If you found it in your book, write the bird's name into your data table. If you already saw a bird of this type during this session, add a tally into the column.
    4. If you cannot find the bird in your field guide, try to write a detailed description of the bird in the table or take a picture of the bird if you have a camera. The description and pictures will help you Figure out which type of bird it is later and might be helpful for your project display board.
    5. If you have a printer, print a picture of the bird (from the field guide, the internet, or your camera) and glue it in your data table.
Date and time: 07/12/2019, 8 am 07/12/2019, 6 pm 07/13/2019, 8 am
Birds that came to your bird feeder Number of birds seen Number of birds seen Number of birds seen
Photo of a sparrow resting on a branch
IIII (4) IIIII (5) I (1)
Photo of a blue jay resting on a branch
Blue jay
I (1) 0 II (2)
Table 1. Data table to write down which birds you see visiting your bird feeder. The first two entries show examples of how to fill in the table.
  1. Between observation sessions, make sure to add more bird food and water when necessary. Keep an eye out for squirrels and take measures to keep them from stealing the bird food, if necessary.
  2. When you have finished your last bird observation session, compare the birds that you have seen coming to your bird feeder with the pictures or list of the birds that you were expecting to come.
    1. Circle the birds that you expected to see and that you did observe coming to your bird feeder.
    2. How many birds that you expected did you actually see?
    3. Which birds did you expect but not see? Can you think of a reason why? If not, do some more research on these specific birds. For example, do they only come out at night, or do they prefer different foods, etc.?
    4. Look back at your observation tables. Did you see birds you did not expect? Can you think of a reason why?
  3. Tally the number of birds of each breed that you saw during your whole observation period. Put your results in a new data table such as Table 2.
Bird Watching Data
(Food type used: _________________ )
Type of bird that came to your bird feeder Total number of birds seen
Table 2. Data table to write down the total number of each type of bird that you saw coming to your bird feeder during your whole observation period.
  1. Graph your data from Table 2.
    1. Write the types of birds that you observed on a piece of graph paper as shown in Figure 4.
      Sparrow, blue jay, starling and crow written on graph paper
      Figure 4. Types of birds observed written on graph paper.

    2. Color one square next to the birds' names for each bird you have seen of that type. For example, if you have seen 5 sparrows, color 5 squares next to the name "sparrow". Do this for each of the types of birds you have listed in Table 2. The result is a graph showing how many birds of each type you saw, as shown in Figure 5.
      Sparrow, blue jay, starling and crow written on graph paper with filled in squares next to each bird type
      Figure 5. Colored squares next to birds' names represent the number of birds seen.

  2. Optional: Looking at your bird watching data, try to find out the answers to the following questions. The data you entered in your observation tables, as well as Table 2, might help you with the answers.
    1. Which types of birds did you see coming to your bird feeder the most?
    2. What was the total number of birds that you observed each day?
    3. At what time of day did you see the most birds coming to your bird feeder, in the morning or evening?
    4. There are probably some more questions that you can think of. Look at your data and graph to see if you can answer them with the data that you collected.
    5. Are there questions you cannot yet answer with the data you have so far? What other data would you like to collect with your bird feeder?
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Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.


  • You can use your bird feeder not only to find out what kinds of birds live in your backyard but also to find out what kind of food these bird breeds like best. Put just one kind of birdseed into your bird feeder. Some seeds to try are sunflower seeds, millet, or corn. Then observe the bird feeder for about one week to see which birds are visiting. The next week, change the type of birdseed and again observe the birds that are coming to your bird feeder. Test several different seeds this way. Which seeds are most popular? Do some breeds of birds prefer a specific seed? This project from Science Buddies builds a more advanced bird feeder to investigate the types of seeds birds prefer to eat.
  • Build several bird feeders and color them with different colors. Hang them up and observe how many birds come to each bird feeder. Is there a certain color that the birds are more attracted to?


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Lohner, Svenja. "Build a Bird Feeder and Study the Birds in Your Backyard!" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p066/zoology/bird-feeder. Accessed 3 June 2023.

APA Style

Lohner, S. (2020, November 20). Build a Bird Feeder and Study the Birds in Your Backyard! Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p066/zoology/bird-feeder

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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