Maybe you’re thinking a birdwatching outing is a bit much right now. Two words – backyard birdwatching. Before you buy a bird feeder, there are few things to know. But since this is a homeschool blog, I’ve got a few different options for making your own bird feeder with kids and a handy printable on which seed to buy to attract which birds.
Why Backyard Birdwatching is Good
I get it. Sometimes you like to stick close to home. Maybe you have a lovely backyard that you want to enjoy. Maybe you’re just planting your garden which is an undertaking all it’s own. My kid is high energy. When we had a backyard (I know, the irony of writing a post about backyard birdwatching when I don’t have a backyard – but YOU might) I liked to kick back with an adult bevvy and watch the little terror run around the yard. Back then we had a Jack Russel Terrier and it was hilarious to watch the two of them chase each other around and around in circles. I would try to guess which one would tire out first.
Let’s not forget, this is “home” school. There’s probably a million reasons you like to be at home. One big advantage I can think of to backyard birdwatching is that you’ll see the same birds over, and over again. Which means your kids will become familiar with those birds through repetition. Another advantage is you’d never forget to have resources such as notebooks or flashcards with you. When researching this blog post I came across the very popular Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards which cover 50 of the most common birds in the east and 50 in the west.
And what would homeschool be without a “hand-ons” project? Let’s not forget I’m all for the full immersion experience of unit studies. We don’t just observe birds in nature studies. We live, breathe and experience birds in every subject. I might not have a backyard, but B’s grandparents do. He built a bird house with his grandpa. Grandpa has the good tools anyway. Grandma also works at Home Depot so she’s got the low down on all the deals on materials.
Before you begin Backyard Birdwatching
Got a question. When you were a kid, did you ever smear peanut butter on a pine cone, roll it in seed and call it a bird feeder? Next question. Do you know what’s wrong with that feeder? It’s not an inherently bad option. It’s quick. It’s fun. And it’s cheap. As a kid I loved it. B is now 8 and still enjoys the hunt for the “perfect” pine cone and how quick and easy it is to make this type of feeder. But if you want to be a birdwatcher, it’s not a great option.
Here are the cons of the pine cone feeder:
- the seeds can get wet and then spoil;
- squirrels can get at the seeds;
- depending on where you put the pine cone, birds may not have a place to perch while trying to feed.
Different types of seed will attract different types of birds.
Now, you could just buy whatever Bulk Barn has on sale and see what birds come. Or you could increase the chances of birds coming to your yard with these easy steps:
- Check eBird to see what birds have been spotted near you.
- Check Project FeederWatch to find out what kind of feeder and seed might attract the birds to your yard.
One thought I had, was Project FeederWatch could also be used to figure out which feeder might be used to attract birds that are not crows. No offence to crows. But I think most people are well acquainted with the American Crow and would like to have other birds come to their backyard.
Easiest feeders to make:
There are more options to feeders than what I’ve chosen to list here. These are just the feeders that, in my opinion, are the easiest and cheapest to make for backyard birdwatching. You can be super simple or get really creative with bird feeders. Completely depends on your level of energy (or attention span of the littles).
Pinterest is exploding with ideas. I tried not to go there. This blog would never have been written if I had. Pinterest is my nemesis. WAY too many cool ideas. You can find oodles of ideas of our tastes are different. But this will at least help you narrow down what you might look for on Pinterest and thus save you some time.
Pressed for time but want to start backyard birdwatching yesterday? Put out a tray of seed or hang a bundt pan in your tree. There! You have a tray feeder. I’m only half kidding. Just make sure that if it rains or snows you dump the seed.
The biggest problem with tray feeders is the lack of protection against unwanted guests, aka squirrels. Second problem, which can be fixed with a bit of ingenuity is drainage. A mesh tray within the tray and a whole at the bottom of the outer tray will allow for water to drain out rather than pool in the bottom.
Here’s a cute Tea Cup Bird Feeder for the uber-creatives. I like that the saucer adds a bit of protection against rain. If you don’t have a drill. Or, like me, am scared to drill cups and saucers, check if there is a china store in your town that converts sets into the old style 2 and 3 tier serving sets. They will usually drill your tea cups and saucers for a nominal fee.house
House or Hopper Feeder
When you say bird house, I think of an actual house style bird house. House feeders can take a bit more effort but can be a fun and beautiful project. That said, I have two options. Milk carton or traditional wood (see video below). With the house style, squirrels may or may not be able to get in. The design in the video squirrels could get in. The milk carton; depends on the hole you cut. You still need to be cautious about moisture but not necessarily as much as an open tray. This option does, after all, have a roof.
Which brings me to my next point. Make sure the roof provides easy access to the inside. I love my son. I’m not sure whether or not the birdhouse he made is intended to hold see but I can tell you 100% for sure, it can’t. There is no way to put the seed inside. He did do a beautiful job decorating it with Sharpie Paint Markers! Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture when we were at dinner (I’ll see if Grandma will send one).
Tube Feeders are basically meshed tubes that hold seed. They’re pretty simple to make. Because you don’t want the seeds to fall through the mesh, buy your seed first. Then, you can see if it easily passes through the mesh when tugged but not when the seed is just sitting on top of the mesh. The upside to tube feeders: squirrels have a hard time with them.
Not all birds eat seeds. If you want to attract woodpeckers (you’ll earn a brave soul badge), nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and starlings you’ll need to have a suet feeder. This Silverware Suet Feeder is a great option because it’s fun to go thrift store shopping AND pound things with mallets. Plus the whole project seems super simple and quick. If you’re a super talented, DIY’er there are recipes on making your own suet. Again, you’ll earn a brave soul badge if you attempt that. I’m so not that type of person. I’m 100% a crockpot, dump dinner or order in kinda girl.
You’re all set!
Now you all you need is to figure out which birds you want to attract to your yard. Download the printable to help figure that out. Think about whether or not rain/snow is an issue for you and whether squirrels are a problem. Select the feeder type you want in your backyard and you’re on your way to starting your backyard birdwatching adventures!