There are many ways to recycle old coffee cans – waste baskets, storage containers, flower pots, etc. – but one of the most fun is to upcycle a can into a bird house. While there are many ways to turn a coffee can into a bird house, this easy project is suitable for a wide range of birds and requires no woodworking experience, very few tools and just a few minutes to complete.
Choose Your Can
A large coffee can is the ideal size for a general purpose bird house and will suit a wide variety of bird species.
Either a plastic or metal can is suitable; metal may be more difficult to work with and can get hotter for the nesting birds, but it is also more durable and offers more of a rustic appeal. A plastic can is less aesthetically pleasing and the bright colors of the plastic may attract predators, but it can be easier to work with, particularly for young birders interested in making an easy bird house.
The can doesn't need to be just a coffee can, either – any similarly sized can, such as large economy sizes for fruit, pudding, juice or other canned foods – can be used for this project in the same way.
Prepare the Can
Before the can is turned into a bird house, it must be thoroughly cleaned. All coffee or other food debris should be removed – not only could it attract insects, but predators could smell it more easily and therefore find the bird house – and the can should be rinsed in a weak bleach solution.
Any paper labels on the exterior can be removed, but doing so will not affect the usefulness of the house. If the can is rusted inside, use a steel wool pad to remove the rust layer, but exterior rust can be left alone for a weathered look.
Once the house is completely dry, use an awl, drill, or nail to puncture drainage holes in what will become the bottom of the house.
A half dozen holes is sufficient, but stagger their placement so they will not all be covered with nesting material by the resident birds. To minimize any injury to the birds, use a metal file to dull any sharp edges on the inside of the holes. At the same time, add several holes in the top third of the can for additional ventilation, but avoid putting them at the very top where leaks on rainy days will be more prominent.
The entrance to the bird house can be created in two ways. If you prefer a nesting shelf or ledge that will work for robins, doves and other larger species, simply discard the can's lid and the entire front of the can will remain open for easy access - this is also the process for cans without lids, if the top of the can needs to be cut away. If you prefer a home for smaller birds that use bird houses, such as wrens, chickadees or nuthatches, use heavy scissors to cut a 1-1.5-inch hole in the can's plastic lid. The entrance hole can be centered or slightly above center, but should not be low on the lid to minimize the risk of hatchlings accidentally falling out. Fit the lid snuggly back onto the can, and the house is ready to use.
Mounting the House
This simple coffee can bird house can be easily mounted with nails or screws through the bottom directly to a tree, fence post or building wall.
It can be helpful to use an awl from the inside of the can to puncture holes to make putting in the screws or nails easier, and using 2-3 to fasten the house will ensure that it does not swivel or fall easily. Ideally, the house should be mounted under an eave or under branches that will provide some additional shade and shelter, or a simple V-shaped wooden roof can be placed over the house. To further protect the house from unwanted invaders such as raccoons or snakes, consider adding a baffle underneath it or taking other steps to discourage bird house predators. Adding a source of nesting material nearby will encourage birds to take up residence.
Cleaning a Coffee Can Bird House
While a metal or plastic can bird house will be more resistant to infestations of mites and other insects, proper cleaning is essential to keep the house attractive to nesting birds.
After each nest of birds has grown up and left, remove the old nest and rinse the house with a weak bleach solution to sterilize it. Check that the ventilation and drainage holes are clear and verify that the house is securely mounted, and a new family will be moving in before you know it.
Recycling is a great way to be a green birder, and recycling an old coffee can into a new bird house is an ideal way to be eco-friendly and bird-friendly at the same time. Add a teapot bird house or teacup bird feeder to your garden as well, and you'll be sharing all your favorite beverages with the birds.
Photo – Old Coffee Can © Mike Lewinski