A shoe bird house can be a whimsical addition to your backyard, and it's easy to turn an old pair of shoes into a comfortable, cozy nesting spot for your feathered friends. Learn how to easily recycle shoes into homes for birds, and you'll never wonder what to do with a worn out shoe again.
Choose Your Shoe
While any old shoe will work for a rustic bird house, old sneakers or hiking boots made with canvas, suede or other heavy fabrics will work best because the material is more flexible to adjust to birds' needs and it will provide some natural ventilation. Shoes with very narrow toes or high heels are not suitable, however, because they will not provide enough space for birds to build a safe nest. The shoes should be adult size – children's shoes will not be large enough for a growing family. The amount of wear and tear on the shoe does not matter, and even broken soles, shoes with holes or otherwise ripped, damaged and stained shoes can be used, making this the perfect way to upcycle shoes that don't fit or aren't in good enough condition to be donated to a thrift store or charity.
Prepare the Shoe
It doesn't take much to turn an old shoe into a new bird house, but proper preparation is essential to be sure the shoe is safe for nesting birds. Remove any insoles, deodorizers or other inserts that could pose a danger to young birds, and loosen or remove the laces. If the shoe tongue is too loose to remove the laces entirely without falling out when the shoe is held on its toe, then only remove the laces from the top two or three holes to enlarge what will become the house entrance, but keep the remaining laces snugly fastened and tied in a tight bow so young birds cannot tangle in them. Tug the shoe tongue out slightly to create a wider entrance.
It is necessary to add some filler to the toe of the shoe to prevent it from being too deep for nesting birds. Options for filler include:
- A bare wooden block (no paint or stain)
- Gravel or rocks
- Tightly wadded rag (without chemical stains)
The filler should be wedged into the toe, filling the shoe to two or three inches below the open top. Do not worry about filling the space completely – it is only necessary to provide a base for the birds to construct their nest, and any remaining space around the filler will serve as additional ventilation and drainage.
Mounting the House
A shoe bird house can be nailed directly to a tree, post or building - heel at the top - and be immediately ready for the birds. Position the nails or screws through the shoe's heel (it can help to use an awl to create the holes through the rubber), and ideally use 2-3 nails or screws to fasten the house securely and ensure it won't tip or fall. If desired, mount the shoe to a board first, and that board can be hung just like you'd hang a more traditional bird house. If the shoe has a low back, it can be helpful to mount a slanted board above it to serve as a roof and provide shade and shelter to the nest. For a whimsical touch, mount the shoes in pairs and give your backyard birds a choice of fashionable nesting spots.
To provide additional protection for the house, consider using a baffle beneath it and take other steps to protect the bird house from predators. Adding nesting material conspicuously nearby can draw birds' attention to the area and encourage them to take up residence.
Cleaning a Shoe House
All bird houses need to be cleaned after nesting birds have left to safeguard against nest parasites or bacteria that can infect future nestlings. To clean a shoe bird house, remove the shoe from the tree or board, empty out the filler, and toss the shoe in the washing machine just as you would to normally clean sneakers (if appropriate for the shoe type; no need to worry about damage to the shoe!), but do not mix it with other laundry. If machine washing is not possible, soak the shoe in a bleach solution and allow it to dry thoroughly before remounting the house for its next tenants.
Upcycling an old shoe into a new bird house can be a fun and easy project, and a creative way to attract nesting birds to your backyard. With just a few steps, your shoes will get new life as cozy, comfortable abode for a wide variety of backyard birds.
Photo – Old Shoes © Alexander Kaiser