These water bottle bird feeders made from plastic water bottles and perfect for wild birds including American goldfinches, Dark-eyed juncos, Purple finches, Indigo buntings, and more. This would be a great project to oversee with a group of kids or adults. The supplies are cheap or free and you can make a lot of them in one afternoon.
Also see, DIY bird and butterfly water feeder for another way to feed wildlife in the garden.
DIY Water Bottle Bird Feeders
Why buy new when you can make use of existing plastic bottles?
The tube-style feeders at shops are often made from the same plastic used for water bottles. And we know there are billions of them going to waste on this planet.
This feeder is designed for birds that enjoy thistle seed, also known as nyger or nijer seed. It’s a small dark seed that (thankfully) squirrels do not like.
I modeled the design after goldfinch feeders in my garden that fit the birds nicely. The most important measure is the distance between the perch and the feeding port (where the seed dispenses). This distance should be 1.25-inches.
Also, be sure to stagger the wooden dowels used as perches. The birds do not like feeding with anyone right over head.
Birds that Enjoy Thistle (Nyger) Seed
- American and European goldfinches
- California quail
- Common redpolls
- Dark-eyed juncos
- Hoary redpolls
- House finches
- Indigo buntings
- Lesser goldfinches
- Mourning doves
- Pine siskins
- Purple finches
Attracting Wild Birds to Your Garden
- Avoid the use of any products toxic to birds and their food sources including caterpillars.
- Grow plants, trees and shrubs for habitat and be messy: dead and decaying things nourish life.
- Keep pets out of your garden.
- Choose plants that provide food, nectar, or habitat for other living things.
- Birdhouses: Use as decoration only.
- Nesting Boxes: Choose species-specific designs.
- Bird Feed: Provide nutritious food and fresh, clean water.
- Bird Feeders: Clean frequently. Remove feeders immediately if you notice any sign of disease or problems like salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, or avian pox are reported in your area.
TIP: Use a motion-sensitive wildlife camera in your garden to see what goes on when you’re not there.
This video shows a quick overview of how they are made.
Again, be sure you get the perch and feeding port distances right, and make sure the perches are tight-fitting so your birds can feed comfortably.
If you’re wondering what the marbles are for, it’s to block off the area of the water bottle that the birds can’t access. The space below the lowest feeding port is inaccessible. To avoid seed sitting there that will go to waste, I filled it in with marbles. You could use anything (stones, etc.) so long as they are small enough to fit through the neck of the water bottle.
Related: How to Hand-feed Wild Birds
Supplies & Tools
- (1) Tall, narrow water bottle with lid (1 L/32 ounces). You can use other sizes but you remember to adapt the dowel/perch size accordingly.
- (2 ) 7″ Wooden dowels (¼” diameter). Each dowel should be 4″ longer than your bottle is wide. My bottle is 3″ wide + 4″ = 7″ dowel.
- (1) Funnel (metal or plastic) – check first that lid of water bottle can fit up inside spout.
- (1) 24-36″ (2-3 foot) Piece of wire for hanging the feeder (16 gauge). The length depends on where you want to hang the feeder (and it’s doubled).
- (1+ cup) Marbles or stones (must be small enough to fit into opening of water bottle).
- Spray paint (for funnel, get all-purpose with primer). I used light green, bright yellow, and orange. The finches seem to like these colours (because they match their own feathers).
- Drill and drill bits (¼” and ⅛”).
- Sharpie marker (fine tip).
- Needle-nose pliers (to twist hanging wire-you may not need to).
- Box cutter or other sharp-tipped item to start holes in plastic before drilling.
- Protective safety gloves (any time you’re cutting or drilling).
- Thistle Seed | Nyger (nijer) seed
- Wild birds.
- Goo-Gone to remove label from water bottle.
- Nail polish remover and rag (to remove Sharpie marks from bottle)
- (1) metal shower curtain ring for hanging feeder from tree branch.
- Wood-burning tool to create or smooth holes in water bottle.
More Ideas for Kids
35 Playful & Practical Garden Ideas for Kids
Sow, grow, garden art & crafts, and outdoor imaginary play.
Set up your workspace and assemble the tools and materials. Use safety gloves whenever cutting or drilling.
2Prepare Water Bottle
Remove labels from water bottle, clean, and allow to dry. Goo-Gone removes glue residue.
Spray paint funnel (inside and outside). Follow safety instructions on container.
Mark and drill holes (or use a wood-burning tool) for dowels (perches) and feeding holes but please read the next part first.
Here’s how to position everything
- You want the dowels to be placed level through the middle of the bottle as well as the right distances apart for easy access to the seed (for the birds).
Also, the dowels should be staggered so that one bird is not sitting right above another when feeding.
- From top view, one dowel will be inserted at 12 and 6 o’clock. The other at 3 and 9 o’clock, three inches higher.
- It’s important that the dowels fit snugly in the holes. If the holes are too big, the dowel (perch) will wiggle around too much and make the birds nervous. Be sure your drill bit is just the size of your dowel circumference.
How to make the dowels level
- The best way to get the dowels level and centered is to drill one hole (only), thread the dowel through to the other side, then mark where that second hole should be. Next drill hole #2. Then thread the dowel all the way through.
Here’s the measurements for positioning the holes
Use your Sharpie to mark these spots.
My water bottles are 1L (32 ounce) size and measure 11 ½” tall x 3″ wide.
- The lowest dowel is 1.5-inches from the bottom of the bottle.
- The feeding holes should be 1 ¼” inches above that dowel (2 ¾” from bottom of bottle).
This is a comfortable distance for goldfinches to stand on the perch and reach the seed.
- Rotate the bottle 90 degrees for dowel #2 so that the birds will not be sitting one above the other.
- Dowel #2 is 4.5-inches from the bottom of the bottle.
- The feeding holes start 1.25-inches above the dowel (5.5-inches from the bottom of the bottle).
- Use ¼” drill bit for dowel holes and 1/8″ drill bit for feeding holes.
- Drill first hole, use dowel to mark the spot for 2nd hole, drill second hole, and thread dowel through.
Mark the feeding hole areas (one above each perch; four total).
- Feeding holes should be ⅛” wide x ¼” tall.
- Drill the four feeding holes using ⅛” bit. You’ll need a few tiny holes in a row (vertically) to form the narrow opening.
Tip to keep drill bit steady
- It’s helpful to have an extra set of hands to hold the bottle steady while you drill.
- In the middle of your drill marks, notch the bottle using the tip of an exacto knife (use safety gloves and get help if you can’t keep the bottle steady).
We want a little pilot hole to help keep the drill bit steady.
- Firmly (but not too firmly) pinch the area you will be drilling.
- Drill slowly and steady. Too much force may crack the water bottle. Careful that your drill bit does not slip and slide.
Making holes with wood-burning tool
- Alternately, you can create the dowel and feeding holes with the tip of a wood-burning tool. It takes just seconds to do. You can use the tool to melt down any sharp edges at the openings. Try a test area first on another bottle to get the feel for how it works.
You now have two dowels (perches) inserted providing 4 spots for the birds to feed, and four feeding holes.
Use nail polish remover to get rid of any leftover Sharpie marks.
6Assemble Lid and Hanger
Prepare the lid/hanging unit.
- Using a ⅛” drill bit, drill two holes through the bottle lid.
- Fold the hanging wire in half and thread the two ends up through the lid. The bend in the wire will be on the underside of the lid.
- Gently twist the wire pieces together above the lid and use pliers to curl the ends (to avoid any sharp points).
7Block Off Bottom Section (Optional)
Pour marbles or some other waterproof material into the bottle up to the bottom of the first feeding holes. This will prevent wasted seed.
8Add Bird Seed & Attach Lid
Fill the bottle with thistle seed. Use the funnel top to pour seed into the bottle.
Thread the lid wire through the funnel, letting the funnel sit on the lid.
9Hang Up Feeder
Metal shower curtain rings make good hangers for small tree branches.
Here are some favorite clips from my backyard birdcam:
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛