Creating bird feeders from thrift store finds can be a fun and creative way to repurpose and upcycle old items. This is an especially fun project for kids! While every thrift store will have a unique assortment of donated products for sale, there’s many types of items that you’ll often find on a regular basis.
In this guide I will show you step-by-step how I created my DIY bird feeders from thrift store finds. I will also give tips and inspiration on how you can be creative and make your own with all kinds of commonly found thrift store household items.
Pro Tips to Finding Bird Feeder Props at Goodwill
For some people, shopping at busy thrift stores like Goodwill can be a daunting task. The shelves are usually filled to the brim with stuff, which is usually highly disorganized. I myself thrive in this chaotic environment, because I’ve developed the skill to visualize the potential in objects that seem like junk. It takes practice and perseverance, but the more you visit these stores, the easier it gets. Keep reading to find my thrift store shopping tips.
Make a Mental List of the Items Your Looking For
Below in this blog post you’ll find a list of the most commonly used items to make DIY upcycled bird feeders. Memorize this list (or write it down) and be on the lookout for these types of household goods. When you know what you’re looking for, it makes sorting through the cluttered racks of items a little easier.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Shop in the Goodwill
As a general rule, thrift store gems are rarely found in a rush. Goodwill stores often have a wide variety of items donated by individuals, making each visit a unique treasure hunt. Giving yourself plenty of time allows you to thoroughly browse through different sections, such as housewares, clothing, electronics, and furniture, to discover hidden gems.
By dedicating enough time to shop, you increase your chances of finding well-maintained and unique pieces that suit your taste and crafting needs. Not to mention, taking your time allows you to sort through racks, shelves, and bins to find items that might have been misplaced or overlooked by others.
Look Up High and Way Down Low on the Shelves and Racks
The shelves that are the easiest to access, are generally the ones that get shopped and sorted the most. By looking up high and down low, you might find items that have just been brought out or haven’t been picked through extensively. Finding items that have been mistakenly put in the wrong section or overlooked by staff during the sorting process can sometimes lead to wonderful discoveries. It takes a little more elbow grease and effort to get down low and stretch up high, but often you’re rewarded for the extra work.
Visit Multiple Thrift Store Locations
We can sometimes get in a rut or comfort zone when it comes to thrift shopping, but there’s great benefit in branching out and trying out new neighborhoods. Different thrift store locations receive donations from varying sources and communities. Each store will have its own unique inventory, so by visiting multiple locations, you expose yourself to a broader range of items and styles.
Thrift stores receive donations regularly, and the inventory is constantly changing. By visiting different locations, you increase your chances of encountering recently donated items or restocked sections that haven’t been picked over yet. This gives you an advantage in finding fresh merchandise.
Thrift Store Items You Can Use to Make a Bird Feeder
I mentioned above that here’s a running list of things I always look for at the thrift store when it comes to DIY crafting a bird feeder. The comprehensive list below includes many commonly found kitchen and home items inside a Goodwill or Salvation Army.
Ceramic and Metal Bowls or Plates
Look for shallow bowls or plates that can be used as a base for the bird feeder. They provide a stable platform for the birdseed. Ceramic and metal bowls or plates can be suitable options for bird feeders, providing durability and functionality.
Ceramic Bowls and Plates
Ceramic bowls are generally sturdy and can withstand outdoor conditions, but they may break if dropped or exposed to extreme temperature changes. They tend to be heavier, making them more stable and less likely to tip over in windy conditions.
Ceramic bowls often come in various colors and patterns, adding an attractive touch to your bird feeder setup. They’re relatively easy to clean and maintain and most ceramic bowls are dishwasher-safe, but check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.
Ensure that the ceramic bowl is lead-free and made from bird-safe materials. Birds can occasionally ingest small ceramic fragments, so it’s essential to choose a well-made bowl without any sharp edges or cracks.
Metal Bowls and Plates
Metal bowls are typically robust and long-lasting, suitable for outdoor use. Look for bowls made from stainless steel or other weather-resistant metals to prevent rusting. They can be lighter than ceramic, so consider adding some weight to the base or securely attaching them to the feeder to prevent tipping.
Metal bowls offer a more functional look, but they can still be visually appealing. They often come in a range of finishes, including brushed, polished, or colored coatings. I used colorful beads to add some color and flair to my DIY metal bird feeder.
Regardless of the material, consider the size and depth of the bowl or plate to accommodate the bird species you want to attract. Also, regularly clean and sanitize the feeders to maintain bird health and prevent the spread of diseases.
About My DIY Bird Feeder
Finding this silver tray and circle metal fruit bowl on the same day at the Goodwill was definitely serendipitous. They stacked inside each other so easily, and had plenty of open gaps for looping twine. It saved me the hassle of having to drill holes or use glue.
Adhering these two bowls together added stability and prevented it from tipping over.
Tea Cups and Saucers
Pair a teacup with its saucer to create a charming hanging bird feeder. Attach the saucer to the cup with a strong adhesive or drill holes and secure them together with wire or string. I’ve seen many DIY tea cup bird feeder where the cup is adhered by laying on it’s side on the saucer, creating a platform for the birds to easily eat the bird seed.
Choose teacups and saucers that are sturdy and made of non-toxic materials like ceramic or porcelain. Avoid cups with cracks or sharp edges that could harm the birds.
Glass Mason Jars
Theres’s multiple ways to make bird feeders using mason jars. When it comes to jar selection, choose a glass mason jar with a suitable size and shape for a bird feeder. A wide-mouthed jar is preferable as it allows easy access for birds and makes it easier to fill and clean.
If you find a mason jar with a handle, you can hang it on it’s side for easy access for the birds. Insert small dowels, wooden spoons, or other suitable materials into the jar to provide perching spots for the birds while they feed. Ensure the perches are secure and not wobbly for the birds. You can use super glue to keep the perch in place, giving the birds confidence that they can safely feed.
When you reach the final step of hanging your glass bird feeder, create or attach a sturdy hanger to the mason jar, allowing you to hang it securely from a tree branch, hook, or pole. Consider using durable materials like wire or strong twine to ensure the feeder is stable and won’t fall.
Mesh Strainers, Colanders or Sieves
Using mesh strainers, colanders, or sieves for DIY bird feeders can be an innovative and effective choice. Choose a mesh strainer, colander, or sieve with a suitable size and mesh opening. Opt for one that has a fine mesh to prevent the birdseed from falling through too easily.
One of the biggest pros of using a strainer, colander or sieve is that water will drain and never pool into stagnant water. This will keep your bird seed fresher for a longer period of time.
Flip the strainer, colander, or sieve upside down to create a platform for the birdseed. Attach a sturdy hanger or loop to the top of the strainer, colander, or sieve. You can use wire, string, or other suitable materials to hang the feeder securely from a tree branch, hook, or pole. Consider placing a tray or dish underneath the mesh strainer, colander, or sieve to catch any seeds that may fall through. This can help minimize waste and make it easier for birds to access fallen seeds.
Look for strainers, colanders, or sieves made from food-grade and non-toxic materials such as stainless steel or BPA-free plastic. Avoid using strainers with coatings or finishes that could be harmful to birds. Regularly clean the feeder by removing any leftover seeds and rinsing it with warm water. Ensure the mesh is clear of debris and dry before refilling with fresh birdseed.
Metal Trays and Cake Tins
Choose a metal tray that is wide and shallow, providing ample space for birdseed or other bird-friendly food. The tray should be made of weather-resistant metal, such as stainless steel or galvanized steel, to withstand outdoor conditions.
Look for a tray with raised edges to prevent the birdseed from spilling over the sides. The edges also provide perching spots for birds while they feed. Decide whether you want to hang the tray or mount it on a post or stand. If hanging, attach a sturdy wire, chain or twine to the tray’s corners or use S-hooks to suspend it from a tree branch or hook. If mounting, choose a location and use appropriate hardware to secure the tray firmly.
Fill the metal tray or cake tin with birdseed, nuts, fruits, or other suitable bird food. Spread the food evenly across the tray to provide easy access for the birds. For my own DIY metal tray bird feeder, I use old plastic yogurt containers to put out the food. This makes cleanup and sanitation so much easier. I just throw out the old ones every week and replace them with repurposed food containers.
Regularly clean the metal tray feeder to maintain bird health and prevent the spread of diseases. Remove any leftover food and debris, wash the tray with warm water and mild soap, rinse thoroughly, and ensure it is completely dry before refilling.
If you want to get fancy, use multiple metal trays in different sizes and heights to create a multi-level feeding station, attracting various bird species.
Using wooden baskets for DIY bird feeders can be a charming and rustic choice. Being that wood is a natural fiber, it can easily blend into the garden surroundings. Plus it kinda looks like a bird nest!
Choose a wooden basket with a suitable size and shape for a bird feeder. Opt for a basket with a solid bottom to hold the birdseed or other bird-friendly food. Look for baskets made from natural and untreated wood to ensure they are safe for birds. Avoid baskets with finishes or coatings that could be harmful to the birds.
Determine how you will incorporate the basket into the feeder design. You can attach small cups, dishes, or containers within the basket to hold the bird food. Alternatively, you can fill the basket itself with birdseed or food, making sure it doesn’t spill out easily.
Attach a sturdy hanger or loop to the basket to hang it securely from a tree branch, hook, or pole. Consider using strong twine, wire, or chain to ensure the feeder is stable and won’t fall. Regularly clean the wooden basket feeder to prevent the buildup of mold, bacteria, or spoiled food. Remove any remaining food, wash the basket with warm water and mild soap, rinse thoroughly, and ensure it is completely dry before refilling.
Mugs or Cups
Using mugs or cups as DIY bird feeders can be a fun and creative way to repurpose household items. Choose mugs or cups that are sturdy and made of non-toxic materials such as ceramic or porcelain. Consider the size and shape of the mug or cup. It should be large enough to hold an adequate amount of birdseed or other bird-friendly food while allowing birds to access it easily.
Determine how the birds will use the mug as a feeder. The easiest ways is to find mugs with a handle, and then use that to hand it. I often see matching (or contrasting) plates adhered to a side titled cup, allowing the birds to comfortably perch and feed.
Using small planters as bird feeders allows for creativity in design and can blend well with your garden or outdoor decor. Experiment with different shapes, colors, and textures of planters to create an eye-catching and functional bird feeder.
Choose small planters with a suitable size and shape for a bird feeder. Opt for planters made of non-toxic materials like ceramic, plastic, or clay. Check if the planter already has drainage holes. If not, consider drilling a few small holes in the bottom to prevent water from accumulating and causing mold or bacteria growth.
Determine how you will create a feeding area within the planter. You can add a small dish or container that fits snugly inside the planter to hold the bird food. Decide whether you want to hang the planter feeder or mount it on a post or stand. If hanging, attach a sturdy wire or chain to the planter’s sides or use S-hooks to suspend it from a tree branch or hook. You can also use nylon or crochet plant hanger, which makes hanging your bird feeder really easy.
If mounting, choose a location and use appropriate hardware to secure the planter firmly. Attach small dowels, wooden spoons, or other suitable materials around the rim of the planter to provide perching spots for birds while they feed.
Plastic Egg Cartons
Using plastic egg cartons as DIY bird feeders can be a very simple and inexpensive option. I only paid 99 cents for mine at Goodwill!
Choose a plastic egg carton with individual compartments. Ensure the carton is clean and free of any chemical residues. Styrofoam cartons should be avoided as they are not bird or environmentally friendly.
Fill each compartment of the egg carton with birdseed, nuts, or other suitable bird food. I first put peanut butter and then added the bird seed, to keep the bird seed from spilling out everywhere.
The plastic egg carton I found has a handle, making it super easy to hang. But if you find one that doesn’t have a handle, then you may have to drill holes or create a net of some kind.
When you’re browsing the aisles at Goodwill looking for bird feeder props, you may have not considered to detour over to the candles and figurine section. Using candle votives as DIY bird feeders can add an aesthetic appeal to your outdoor space while providing a feeding station for birds.
Choose candle votives that are made of glass or ceramic materials. Ensure they are clean and free of any wax residue or chemicals. The candle votive that I found has perfect built-in feeding cups, along with a “lace-like” design that allows for easy hanging. The shape and dimensions allow for easy perching and feeding. It’s almost like it was made for the birds!
Some of the best bargains you can find at Goodwill are in the crafting isle. You will need twine, yarn, string, wire, wooden rods, beads and possibly more for this project. It’s also beneficial to stock-up on cheap crafting supplies for future projects. People often donate large bags of mixed lot crafting supplies, and you can discover all kinds of funs things for pennies on the dollar.
Helpful Hacks to Keep Your Birdseed From Spilling
By implementing these hacks, you can help reduce seed spillage and create a cleaner feeding environment for both the birds and yourself. Not to mention that you’ll save money on bird seed and you won’t have to refill the feeder too often. Enjoy the beauty of birdwatching while keeping your surroundings tidy!
Using peanut butter as a binding agent can be an effective way to prevent bird seed from spilling in certain types of bird feeders. Peanut butter works well in open-style feeders or platforms where the birdseed is spread out and accessible to birds.
Opt for all-natural peanut butter without added sugar, salt, or artificial additives. Avoid peanut butter with xylitol, as it can be toxic to birds. ***I learned this lesson after taking these photos, and now going forward I use only natural peanut butter.
Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on the surface of the feeder or platform. You can use a butter knife or a small spatula to evenly distribute the peanut butter. Immediately after applying the peanut butter, sprinkle bird seed on top while the peanut butter is still sticky. Gently press the bird seed into the peanut butter to ensure it adheres well.
Allow the peanut butter to dry and harden. This will help keep the bird seed in place and prevent it from easily spilling out. Regularly check the feeder to ensure there is enough bird seed available for the birds. Refill as needed, adding more peanut butter if needed.
*It’s important to note that not all bird species can consume peanut butter, as it can be a choking hazard or cause digestive issues for some birds. Additionally, in warmer climates, peanut butter can melt and become messy.
Using gelatin as a binding agent can be another method to help keep bird seed from spilling in certain types of bird feeders. Gelatin is suitable for feeders that have compartments or trays where the bird seed can be contained.
You will need unflavored gelatin powder or sheets, which can be found in most grocery stores. Follow the instructions on the packaging to prepare the gelatin mixture. Dissolve the gelatin in hot water according to the instructions on the package. Ensure that the gelatin is fully dissolved and there are no clumps.
Once the gelatin mixture has cooled slightly but is still liquid, stir in the bird seed. Use enough bird seed to fully coat it with the gelatin mixture. Pour the gelatin-coated bird seed into the compartments or trays of the feeder. Press it down gently to ensure it is evenly distributed. Place the feeder in a cool area to allow the gelatin to set. This will help the bird seed adhere and prevent spillage.
*It’s important to note that gelatin may not be suitable for all bird feeders or bird species. Some birds may not be attracted to or able to feed from gelatin-coated bird seed. Additionally, gelatin may not be effective in humid or hot climates, as it can melt or become sticky.
Use a Tray, Catcher or Platform
Using a tray or catcher beneath your bird feeder is a practical and effective way to prevent bird seed from spilling and minimize waste. Choose a tray or catcher that is larger than the size of your bird feeder. It should be wide enough to catch any falling bird seed and prevent it from scattering on the ground.
Opt for a tray or catcher made of durable and weather-resistant materials such as metal, plastic, or wood. Ensure it is easy to clean and can withstand outdoor conditions. Position the tray or catcher directly beneath the bird feeder.
If your feeder has a hanging mechanism, ensure that the tray is placed directly below it to catch any dropped seeds. Consider the depth of the tray or catcher. It should be deep enough to catch a significant amount of falling bird seed, but not so deep that it becomes difficult for birds to access the seeds.
Consider a tray or catcher made of mesh, so that water drains out easily. Regularly clean the tray or catcher to prevent the buildup of mold, bacteria, or spoiled food. Remove any accumulated bird seed, wash the tray with warm water and mild soap, rinse thoroughly, and ensure it is completely dry before repositioning it.
After a period of time, collect the seed from the tray and refill your bird feeder. This way, you can minimize waste and ensure that the seed is fresh for the birds.
Solid Vegetable Fat
Using solid vegetable fat, such as vegetable shortening or suet, can be an effective method to prevent bird seed from spilling in certain types of bird feeders. This bird-friendly fat works well in feeders that have wire mesh or openings where the fat can be spread and held in place.
Opt for vegetable shortening or suet that is made from 100% vegetable fat, without any added oils, salt, or artificial ingredients. Avoid using fats that contain hydrogenated oils or trans fats.
Allow the vegetable fat to soften at room temperature or gently warm it in a microwave or on a stovetop. Ensure that it is soft enough to spread but not completely melted. Take a small amount of softened vegetable fat and spread it on the wire mesh or openings of the feeder.
Use a spoon or your fingers to evenly distribute the fat, ensuring that it covers the entire surface. Immediately after applying the vegetable fat, press bird seed onto the fat-coated surface. Gently press the seed into the fat, ensuring it adheres well. Allow the vegetable fat to solidify and harden. This will help keep the bird seed in place and prevent it from easily spilling out.
Adjust Feeder Position
While this may seem like an obvious statement, adjusting the position of your bird feeder can be a simple and effective way to prevent seeds from spilling.
Consider the type of feeder you are using. Some feeders are naturally designed to minimize seed spillage, while others may be more prone to it. Understanding the design of your feeder will help you determine the best position to reduce spills.
If you’ve made a feeder with a particularly large opening, hanging it angled with a tilt upwards can prevent all your seeds from landing on the ground when a bird lands from flight.
Place your bird feeder in a sheltered area that is protected from strong winds. Windy conditions can cause seeds to scatter easily. Positioning the feeder near a wall, fence, or dense vegetation can provide some protection from wind gusts.
Position the feeder at an appropriate height that discourages ground-feeding animals from accessing the seeds. This can help reduce seed waste caused by non-bird visitors.
Place the feeder over a hard surface, such as a patio, deck, or concrete area. This can help prevent seeds from sinking into the ground and making them less accessible to birds.
Avoid overfilling the feeder. Fill it with an amount of seed that the birds can consume within a day or two. Overfilling can lead to excess spillage as birds sift through the seeds to find their preferred types.
Use Slices of Fruit
Another way to make the bird seed more enticing, along with preventing spillage, is to cut pieces of fruit in half and hollow out the middle. Apples and oranges cut in half, and then stuffed with seeds in the middle can help attract fowl friends and keep the seeds from scattering on the ground. If your DIY bird feeder is made out of a tray or basket, those fruit halves will fit in there nicely.
Make Squirrel-Proof Feeders
Squirrels can be notorious for raiding bird feeders and consuming the seeds intended for birds. While it’s challenging to make a completely squirrel-proof feeder, there are several measures you can take to deter squirrels and minimize their access to the bird food.
Place the feeder at least 10-12 feet away from trees, buildings, or any other objects that squirrels can jump from. Ideally, position it near a bird-friendly habitat, such as dense shrubs or bushes, to provide cover for birds while making it harder for squirrels to access the feeder.
Use a plastic bowl to make a squirrel baffle or dome above or below the feeder. These devices create a physical barrier that prevents squirrels from reaching the seeds. Make sure the baffle or dome is large enough and positioned correctly to deter squirrels from climbing or jumping over it.
Select bird seed mixes that are less appealing to squirrels. Avoid using seed blends that contain large amounts of sunflower seeds or peanuts, as these are often preferred by squirrels. Opt for seed mixes that include millet, nyjer (thistle), or safflower seeds, which are less attractive to squirrels.
Some birds are not affected by spicy substances, while squirrels are. Consider using cayenne pepper or other spicy additives on the bird seed. Sprinkle a small amount onto the seed, and squirrels will be discouraged from consuming it.
Bird Feeder Maintenance Tips
Proper maintenance of your bird feeder is important to ensure it remains clean, safe, and functional for the birds. Here are some helpful tips for bird feeder maintenance.
Regular Cleaning and Sanitation
Clean your bird feeder regularly, ideally once every one to two weeks or more frequently if needed. Remove old seed, debris, and droppings to prevent the growth of mold or bacteria. Use warm water and a mild detergent to wash the feeder, and rinse it thoroughly. Allow it to dry completely before refilling.
To disinfect your bird feeder, periodically sanitize it with a diluted bleach solution. Mix one part bleach with nine parts water, and use a scrub brush or sponge to clean all surfaces of the feeder. Rinse it thoroughly and let it dry before adding fresh seed.
Is Drainage Necessary in Bird Feeders?
Drainage in bird feeders is not always necessary, but it can be beneficial in certain situations. If your bird feeder is exposed to the elements and doesn’t have any protection from rain, drainage holes can prevent water from accumulating in the feeder. Stagnant water can spoil the birdseed, making it unappetizing or potentially harmful to birds.
If the birdseed gets wet and remains damp for an extended period, it can promote the growth of mold, mildew, or bacteria. Drainage holes can help prevent moisture buildup and keep the birdseed fresh and safe for consumption.
The design and construction of the bird feeder can influence the need for drainage. Some feeders are specifically designed with built-in drainage mechanisms, such as trays or mesh bottoms, which allow excess water to drain naturally. Consider the placement of the bird feeder when deciding on drainage. If you position the feeder in a sheltered location, such as under a roof or awning, it may be less susceptible to rainwater accumulation and may not require drainage.
If you are creating a DIY bird feeder using unconventional materials like teacups or other containers, adding drainage holes can be a good precautionary measure to prevent water from pooling.
Ultimately, the need for drainage in a bird feeder depends on factors such as the feeder design, placement, and exposure to weather conditions. Regularly inspect your feeder and monitor the moisture levels to determine if drainage holes are necessary. If you notice issues with excess moisture, consider adding drainage or adjusting the feeder’s location to better protect it from rain.
Placement of Your Bird Feeder
Position your feeder in a suitable location that offers easy access for birds while also providing some protection from predators. Place it near trees or shrubs to offer cover and a sense of security for the birds. Refill the feeder regularly to ensure a steady supply of fresh seed.
Check for Damage
Inspect your bird feeder regularly for any signs of damage or wear. Look for cracks, loose parts, or signs of degradation that could compromise the feeder’s stability or safety. Repair or replace damaged feeders as needed to ensure they remain functional and secure for the birds.
Monitor your bird feeder for signs of pests such as squirrels, raccoons, or ants. Consider using squirrel-proof feeders or baffles to deter squirrels and other larger animals. Keep the area around the feeder clean and clear of spilled seed to minimize pest attraction. If ants are an issue, use ant moats or place a water barrier between the feeder and the hanger to deter them.
Fresh Seed Rotation
Avoid leaving old or stale seed in the feeder for extended periods. Birds may avoid spoiled seed, and it can attract pests or become moldy. Rotate the seed regularly, using the older seed first, and ensure the seed is fresh and free from signs of spoilage.
Provide a nearby water source, such as a birdbath or shallow dish with fresh water, for the birds to drink and bathe. Clean and refill the water source regularly to maintain cleanliness and prevent the spread of diseases.
My Final Product
This photo shows how my DIY bird feeder made of 100% thrift store finds turned out. It really is a fun addition to our garden and has already been attracting a fair amount of birds. My kids love the rainbow beads, and the silver metal attracts the light and sparkles on a sunny day. 🙂
Sign up for our newsletter!
Never miss a thrifting tip! Readers of our newsletter will receive notifications of new published blog posts and exclusive content just for our loyal readers.