An empty coffee can ready for use.
You've just brewed a pot of coffee with the remnants of your can, and are now left with an empty reminder of the aromatic grounds that formerly filled it. As you go to open the new container, you wonder how to put the old one to use and upcycle it into something fun or useful. Consider using your old coffee can to make a bird house through a craft that is suitable for an individual, or even for the family to help with! Some of these materials, including the wood and screws, can be sourced from leftovers found around the home.
SAFETY: Please remember to take safety precautions when working on projects such as this, and youngsters especially should have an adult present, and have them use the tools for them! Also, take care when mounting the bird house if using a ladder.
- 1 x Coffee Can (plastic or metal)
- 1 x Scrap Piece of Wood (pallet is easy to source/use)
- 4 x Screws (recommend two short ones, about 1 inch, then two a bit longer- see instructions)
- 1 x Drill (with accompanying drill bit to drive the screws)
- 1 x Hole Saw (drill attachment; we used a 1 or 1 1/4 inch)
- 1 x Sandpaper (a small hand-sanding pad block works well here)
- OPTIONAL: 1 x Twist Drill Bit, Acrylic Paints, Paint Brushes, Polyurethane (if painting), Hot Glue Gun
Gathering of Materials
Start by ensuring that your coffee can has been thoroughly washed with mild soapy water, then rinsed and dried. I recommend using a durable plastic can, or metal, for this project (some coffee cans are now made from a cardboard-like material and will fall apart easily). If you have scrap one inch thick lumber or rough cut wood, or maybe even a few pieces of pallet lying about, this is ideal for making the backing that you can use to fasten the can to a tree or post. Gather all needed tools for ease of access once you are ready to begin.
Now is the time to research the type of bird you hope to attract, and learn more about the size of the opening, location of the house, and height placement. For instance, we have many Carolina Wren in our area, and they have a wide variety of locations they inhabit (we've had them nest in a coffee can bird house at head level, or almost on the ground hidden behind the wheel of an ATV wagon/dump cart). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great website called NestWatch that allows you to see data about nest box height, entrance holes, and where to place them ideally for different birds in your area. NestWatch also is a place where members of the public can learn how to properly collect data on nesting sites without disrupting the bird and their eggs/young, and submit it to help them learn more about the nest successes/failures different birds species.
Step One: Painting
If you are going to paint anything on your scrap piece of wood, this would be the best time to do so. Start by by sanding the surface of the wood you will be using to help the paint bond to it. Line up the coffee can where you want to place it, but do not attach it yet, and lightly mark with a pencil the outside of where the can will rest. This will help you paint in a visible area, and also help line up the coffee can when you place it on here. Acrylic paints work well with this, so paint your chosen design on here. This is a great step to let kids help along with, by encouraging them to paint a welcoming design on the board! If you're exposing the painted wood to the elements, such as attaching to a tree, we recommend using polyurethane to coat the painted area. Make sure to apply outdoors or in a well-ventilated area and take proper precautions to not inhale fumes. If you use this step, give your board a few days to air and dry properly to reduce fumes. Do not paint anywhere inside where the birds will be staying!
The entryway hole and perch stick hole have been cut out from the lid, and sanded smooth.
Step Two: Drilling Hole(s)
Set your coffee can lid on a suitable wooden surface where you can cut the main entry/exit hole out safely. Have a look at nest box diagrams to see where the hole should be placed on your can, as some nests require a bit of depth for the bird to build an adequate nest. With one hand, hold the lid firmly, and use the other to cut your hole using the hole cutter attachment on your drill. If you want to add a little perch outside the bird house, use your twist drill bit below the larger hole and drill a small hole. Find a small twig that's a bit wider than the hole, and wedge it snugly inside. Or, find a twig smaller than the hole and use a glue gun to fit it into hole for the perch. (Another option is to use a mini wooden dowel here). For the entryway, use your small piece of sandpaper or handheld sanding block to gently scrub and remove any roughness.
Screws have been drilled through the inside of the can to secure it to the wood backing.
Step Three: Attaching the Can
With the lid off of your can, use your drill to insert two screws through the back part of the can and into the board you are using for a backing/mount. You'll want to do it this way, because coming from the back side of the board and through the can will leave the pointy ends facing inward, and you don't want a bird to be hurt in this way. We used two spare 1 inch sheetrock screws for this, as they're short and provided just enough length to attach the can to the board.
Now place the lid back onto the can, and take your finished product to the location you've selected for the bird house to be mounted. I recommend making sure the area is covered/sheltered from extreme temperatures and elements if possible. Whether a post, a tree, or on a building, remember again to use care if you will be climbing a ladder. On this step, you'll want screws that are a fair deal longer than your mounting board is thick (for instance, if the board is 1 inch thick, use 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long screws to give it a good hold into the location you'll be mounting it). Again, we sourced leftovers, and actually used two roofing screws on this part! Place one screw on either end of the board, whether left and right side if made to face horizontally, or top and bottom of the board if meant to face vertically. This will help secure the bird house to its new resting place.
This finished bird house waits to welcome a visitor!
Now that your bird house is completed and ready for a feathered friend to move in, keep an eye on it from time to time at a distance and see who comes to visit! Before you know it, there just may be a bird scouting the new location for a potential nest (these houses may also double as a later home for chipmunks if forgotten about, and the former tenant's nest has not been cleaned out). It's your turn to take that empty coffee can, and create a unique new home for your local birds!
This 2019 coffee can bird house (lid removed to reveal inside), once a nesting site for a Carolina Wren to hatch young, was later occupied by an Eastern Chipmunk.
Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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