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Build a Bird Feeder to Discover What Animals Need

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Grade Range
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes + potential bird observation days
Area of Science
Key Concepts
Animals' basic needs, survival
Svenja Lohner, PhD, Science Buddies
Build a Bird Feeder to Study Birds – STEM activity


In this lesson, each student will create a bird feeder from recycled, bird-safe materials. While designing their own bird feeders, students will discuss what basic needs an animal has and how they can meet these needs with the structure they build.

Learning Objectives

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Science & Engineering Practices Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Use tools and/or materials to design and/or build a device that solves a specific problem or a solution to a specific problem.
Disciplinary Core Ideas LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms. All animals need food in order to live and grow. They obtain their food from plants or from other animals. Plants need water and light to live and grow.
Crosscutting Concepts Structure and Function. The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s).


Materials used to build a birdfeeder

Photo of household materials that can be used to build and decorate a bird feeder. Pictured is an empty plastic milk jug, glue, yarn, colored feathers, colored popsicle sticks, scissors, wooden dowels, tape, paintbrushes, seashells, pebbles, tree bark, paint, stickers and bird seeds.

Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

Birds are a large group in the animal kingdom. Scientists estimate 10,000 different species of birds exist worldwide. You don't have to go far to see some of the different birds nature has to offer. You will find them around your home or in your backyard. But how are they able to survive in the wild? What do they need to live and grow? They need exactly the same things that we as humans need to survive: food, water, shelter, and air to breathe, as shown in Figure 1. The following paragraphs go more into detail about why these four basic needs are so important to us and any other living animals on Earth.

Three photos of a bird eating, drinking and resting in a bird house from left to right
Figure 1. In addition to air, birds need food (left), water (middle) and shelter (right) to survive in the wild.

Food is the energy source for every single animal. Animals need to eat regularly to get energy for their bodies to function. What kinds of foods an animal eats depends on the type of animal; some animals hunt or prey on other animals (carnivores), whereas others will search for foods like plants or fruits (herbivores) or eat both plants and fruits and other animals (omnivores). A wild bird's diet consists of plants such as grains or seeds and animals like insects, worms, or fish. Each animal chooses to live where they can find the food 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 supply, 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 under water need to take up oxygen with their gills. The oxygen is important to keep the processes in the body going. For example, oxygen is needed to make energy from the food an animal eats. Because 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 within a certain temperature range. When the temperature gets too high or too low, an animal will die. A shelter can help protect them from temperatures that are too high or too low. In addition, a shelter is a place where animals can raise their young and helps protect them from dangers such as predators. The type of shelter, or home, an animal builds or chooses can vary. Some animals build underground borrows, some build nests in trees, and others prefer to live in caves. 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.

The basic needs are the same for animals in captivity and animals in the wild. No matter where they live, an animal that lacks one of these four basic needs will not survive. Building a place that provides birds with some of the things they need to survive, such as a bird feeder, is a great way to learn more about the birds in a certain area. In this lesson, each student will create a bird feeder from recycled materials. While coming up with their own designs, students will discuss what basic needs an animal has and how they can meet these needs with the structure they build. The bird feeder built in this lesson aims to meet three basic needs of a bird: 1) food in form of the bird seeds that are added to the feeder, 2) water, which is filled into the mini cup, and 3) shelter, as the milk jug offers protection from strong winds and the cold. Thus, a bird feeder can be attractive to a lot of birds. This allows bird watchers to get a closer look without disturbing the birds. People who study birds are called ornithologists. They try to learn as much as they can about each of the different types of birds. They study what each bird looks like, what they eat, where they fly, how they sound, and much more.

Prep Work (15 minutes)

Engage (15 minutes)

Explore (30 minutes)

Reflect (15 minutes)

Make Career Connections

Lesson Plan Variations

Free science fair projects.