Bird Feeders

Children will reuse a milk container to conduct an experiment about what kind of food birds eat.

Lesson Objective

Children will reuse a plastic milk container, which is an item commonly used in their daily lives, to perform an experiment with birds native to their region.


What You'll Need

  • Clear plastic gallon milk or juice containers – 3 to 5 containers
  • Birdseed – 5 pound bag
  • Plain popped popcorn – about ½ gallon
  • Stale bread – 1 loaf
  • String – 1 ball
  • Utility knife (for adult use only)
  • Chart paper
  • Permanent marker

What To Do

  1. Ask children open-ended questions about what they know about birds (see Guiding Student Inquiry). Record responses on chart paper.
  2. Explain that they will learn what birds like to eat. They will be helping birds and the environment by recycling plastic milk containers instead of throwing them in the trash.
  3. Make bird feeders by cutting a large window in the plastic jugs, opposite the handles. Make sure that there are no rough or sharp edges.
  4. Ask children for suggestions of what birds like to eat.
  5. Fill each feeder about half way with these different types of food – birdseed, popcorn, stale bread, and foods suggested by the children. Draw a line on the outside of the bird feeder to mark the height of the food.
  6. Ask the children, “How will we be able to tell which one of these foods the birds like best?”
  7. Hang your feeders outside where the children can view them from a window, or in an area where the children visit frequently, such as the playground.
  8. Over the next several days, watch the bird feeders to see which type of food is being consumed the fastest.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Have you seen any birds outside?
  • What have you seen the birds doing? (flying, perching, eating, gathering twigs and grass)
  • What do you think the birds eat?
  • Do you think all birds eat the same things?
  • What do you think birds like to eat best?
  • How do you think we could find out?
  • How can we tell which one of these foods the birds liked best?
  • How did we recycle/reuse by making these bird feeders?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • If you have extra containers, you can use them to include some of the children’s suggested foods and add them to the experiment.
  • Place a variety of recyclable containers in the art center for the children to make additional bird feeders. Include materials such as tissue paper, stickers, yarn, and scraps of gift wrap for the children to use to decorate the bird feeders.
  • Place some of the foods that you used in the bird feeders in the science center. Encourage the children to use a magnifying glass, flashlight, scale, etc. to examine the different foods.
  • Place a large container of birdseed in your sand area. Add toys so that the children can pour, dig, and sift the birdseed.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Can the children tell which food the birds liked and why they knew that?
  • Can the children explain why the milk container was recycled or used again, for their experiment?


Did You Know?

The plastic that is used to produce gallon milk containers is the same plastic that is used to produce items such as grocery bags, shampoo bottles, and cereal box liners. The manufacturing process to produce plastic is damaging to our environment. The process uses a lot of energy and creates pollution. When the plastic products are thrown away rather than recycled, they are damaging to the environment. Reusing and recycling the plastic is a great way to help the environment. The recycled plastic can be used to make new milk containers. The recycled plastic can also be used to make items such as floor tiles, gardening tools, flower pots, and recycling bins.

Some birds common to the United States include sparrows, cardinals, mockingbirds, orioles, chickadees, robins, bluebirds, finches, and mourning doves. These birds create nests to protect their eggs and young birds after they hatch. These species of birds generally eat insects, seeds, grains, and fruits. Some of the species also enjoy eating caterpillars and spiders. These birds are vocalizers and each type of bird has its own sounds that it makes. Some of the species migrate to warmer climates during the cold months, while others stay in the United States year round.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • recycle – to put used things through a process that allows them to be used again.
  • reuse – to use something again or use it more than one time.
  • plastic – a special material made by scientists that is easy to bend and shape when it is soft.
  • prefer – choose something as your favorite or the one that you like the most.
  • compare – bringing two or more things together to see how they are alike and different.
  • environment – the natural world (like air, water, and soil) that surrounds people and animals.

Lesson Tips

  • Remind children that it may take several days for birds to find the feeders. This may be an activity best done on a Friday so that by Monday birds will be visiting.
  • Be flexible when the children suggest what birds may like to eat. It is possible that children will name their favorite foods or snacks. This is okay. They will learn about the different nutritional needs of a bird compared to a child.


  • The Earth Book by Todd Parr
  • The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle by Alison Inches
  • The Mystery at the Birdfeeder by Wayne Brillhart
  • Birdfeeder Banquet by Michael Martchenko

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS