Building a Bird Island

So ya wanna help the birds do ya?
First we'll start with a materials list. You'll need the following items to construct one "Mitch's patent pending  :)  Bird Island."

DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE the recipe except perhaps in your choice of anchor. PVC smaller than 1.5" will not trap enough air to float much, unless it's a 1' square platform for small birds.

Even nest weight will sink less than 1.5" PVC on a 1' square platform. Plywood will not work as a substitute for the eggcrate either. The birds feces doesn't fall through it, it won't wash off in the rain, and the increased resistance during flood events will lose your platform. Anything metal rusts.

Using smaller diameter PVC will not float a nest, or Cormorant, etc. Tiny Least Terns, fine, but they can only hold two medium sized birds, whereas with 1.5" it can hold TWO Cormorants!

These two gulls have found the capacity
load limit on this one inch PVC.

The only possible change I would investigate is using ABS (sewer line) instead of PVC. It's thinner walled, lighter, and floats on its own so might be better (and cheaper) than PVC. I build pressurized systems so had lots of PVC laying around.

1) 1.5" diameter PVC pipe - sold in 10' lengths (<$3)
(Schedule 40 PVC)
4) 1.5" PVC elbows ($3)
1) can of PVC glue ($2)
1) can of PVC primer (do not skip this!) ($2)
1) 2' x 4' flourescent light eggcrate ($8)
4) 8"+ cable ties (attach eggcrate to frame) (50-cents)
1) 8 x 8 x 6 cinder block brick (anchor) (67-cents)
1) piece of 5/8" nylon rope - 20' or so ($1.50)

Note prices are in CA (very high usually), and
may have changed since this page was first written!

Materials and tools used ...
(note PVC is already cut to length)

Hand Hacksaw, or small electric jigsaw
(preferably both)
Tape measure
Felt-tip Marker (to mark PVC cut)

Dingy, Canoe, Raft, Kayak, Bass boat, etc. (for deployment)

(Must be arranged through L.A. Rec & Parks, as boating is not allowed on the lake.)

About $20 total cost for one 2' x 4' platform, though when I built the first one the eggcrate was $4 not $8!

You can build two that are 2'x 2' (splitting the eggcrate in half) for just one more 10' PVC piece and 4 more elbows (two for $25). You'll have enough glue and primer, and rope and cable ties left over from buying minimums for the first one.

So, let's get started, eh!?! First you have to decide what size you want it to be, in order to cut the 10' length of PVC into proper lengths. I use the hand hacksaw for this.

NOTE: if you intend on building it to fit an uncut piece of eggcrate, you'll need more than 10' of PVC (two pieces). If you only have one 10' piece of PVC you'll need to trim the eggcrate length down.

If you are building to fit uncut eggcrate (2' x 4') cut two pieces 45.5", and two 21.5". If you are building to use just one 10' piece of PVC, cut two pieces at 38.5" and two at 21.5".

I use a felt-tip ("Sharpie") marker to put several marks around the PVC pipe at the right measurement as a cutting guide.

Remember: Measure twice, cut once. And, you can always cut a little more off, but it's real hard to put some back on. Cut all four lengths first. Then perhaps more crucial than the exact length, you must get all the burrs, flash, or roughage, off the cut ends of PVC pipe. Your ends must be clean like the original when you bought it.

I put the end of one cut piece into the end of another, and rotate them around each other, and switch. This will remove most of your burr. You can go over it with your fingers and clean it up a little. But, MAKE SURE there are no burrs left. They will cause leakage, and your platform will sink when it fills with water.

Deburring cut pipe ends -
Rotate ends inside each other

You need a clean flat place to glue and assemble the platform. But, NOT the dining room table! Gather the four clean lengths of PVC, and the four 90 degree elbows, plus the glue and primer.

You also need something like a dropcloth under the work, or you'll get dust and dirt on your joints, which may cause leakage. I hate when that happens! The purple primer stains forever, so don't do it on anything you don't want purple, and don't wear that classic "Stones Tour 1975" T-shirt either.

I know there are other types and even other colors of PVC primers out there, but I'm a purple primer man. NEVER glue PVC without primer. The primer softens up the PVC so glue works on it. Since we need an airtight seal to float the platform, the gluing operation is critical.

First we primer all the ends of all the pipe, and the "insides" of all the elbows. I hold the pipe over the open primer can at an angle so the excess drips back into the can. The PVC pipe will go over an inch into the elbow. It must be primered at least this distance. I go 1.5" - 2" of primer. Paint the primer all the way around the pipe, evenly, and then do the same with the elbows. Paint all the way into the "stop" (at the turn) inside the elbow, and make sure the entire inside is painted purple.

Purple primer party ...
Note: Insides of elbows done, and
do it over the can to salvage drippage

First glue ** one elbow each ** on the ends of two of the LONG pieces. DO NOT glue both elbows on one piece. When gluing them, be liberal and sloppy with the glue.

Coat the PVC pipe thickly, and fill the elbow thickly with glue covering the purple area ALL THE WAY AROUND, inside the elbow and outside the pipe. Both pieces to be glued must be thouroughly coated. When you stick the pipe into the elbow you turn the pipe as you push it in. I start with the lettering on the pipe at top, and I turn the lettering on the PVC pipe so it will face inside when I'm done, and not be visible. This will be a quarter turn as you insert the pipe in the elbow. The turning also insures a complete seal smearing the glue everywhere. Glue should come out the joint as you fully insert the pipe into elbow, or you're not using enough. Hold the freshly glued joint tight for a half-minute, and set down gently and don't touch it for a couple minutes, giving the glue a chance to set. Do not move or adjust elbow or pipe once you've "set" pipe to bottom of elbow.

Twisting and seating the PVC into an elbow

Now lay the two long pieces (with one elbow each on one end) so the elbows are facing each other on a flat surface. Take a short piece (already primered) and glue it into the elbow on one of the long pieces. Give it a couple of minutes to set before moving it. Always let a freshly glued joint sit a few minutes before putting pressure, force or stress on it.

You can glue one elbow to one end of the other (loose) short piece while you're waiting. Remember to turn the lettering so it's facing the inside or down as you glue. Never glue two elbows on one piece at once unless it's on a flat surface, making sure your elbows are the exact same angle, or your frame will be too twisted to assemble.

Now glue the other end of the partly assembled short piece (which is glued into one end of a long piece) into the elbow on the other long piece. Remember goopy, lots of glue, LOTS! Let this set a couple minutes. You now should have the two long pieces connected with one short piece, and.... oh yeah, and a purple spotted shirt and matching shoes.

Assuming you glued an elbow onto one end of the other short piece whilst waiting, now glue that short piece with elbow onto one end of one of the long pieces. MAKE SURE as you twist it on, that you end up with it "flat" (why to do it on a table) in the proper place for the final joint or elbow to be connected. Let this sit several minutes, because you WILL stress the joint putting the last elbow on.

You will have to kinda wrestle with the elbow and the last two pipe ends to get this last elbow on. First glue it all real good, and put the elbow on one end, lining it up properly to receive the other pipe end as you do so. Quickly get the final pipe end into the elbow and hold it all for a minute. The pipe often tries to back out of this last elbow joint while it's still wet. Hold for a minute, and it should stay. If you let go right away, it will pop out, you've broken the seal, and it might be a leaker.

NOTE: An alternate method is to glue two elbows on the final short piece (must be done on a flat surface to be sure they are exactly aligned. Then glue this unit as a whole onto the two long piece ends at once.

Once you've assembled the frame (our float) let the whole thing set for 5-10 minutes so the glue can set well. I have tried going over the outside of the elbow joints with glue just to be sure its all well sealed.

If you're using the "one 10' PVC" method, you can cut the eggcrate down to proper length while you wait. I use the electric jigsaw for this. The key is to keep the blade up against the piece you are cutting along. This so you don't have a bunch of stubs sticking out that could poke, or get hung up on something. Go slow, don't push, let the blade do the work. I think the cut is at 40.5" inches. That is you are cutting off 7" of the eggcrate length.

Cutting eggcrate - keep blade against
piece you're using (left side here)

We are about ready to put the eggcrate onto the floating frame (presuming you glued properly it floats). The important thing is that the eggcrate sit high on top of the PVC, not under it, so with the weight of a couple birds it still stays out of the water.

I lay the eggcrate on top of the frame, and LOOSELY attach a cable tie about midway on each side. Do not tighten them all the way down on first try. You'll pull the eggcrate over to that side, and then it won't ride on top on the other side. Once the cable ties are all in place I snug them up like lug nuts on a wheel, a little at a time on each one, to keep the eggcrate placement proper: high and centered.

Snip excess cable tie ends WOW! Looks cool, eh!?!

When fresh and still "wet" take care that you do not drop, or bang it hard or you may crack one of your glue seals. I also think it better to let the whole thing sit at least a day (24 hrs.) before putting it in water.

The length of rope you need will be determined by the depth of the pond or lake. I'd add at least 10' over the depth to the bottom for flooding. This varies with area, and you should be able to "guestimate" how deep the area gets in floods. If it's a 10' lake, use 20' of rope, unless you know it not to be prone to flood level increases.

Thread the rope around the PVC at one of the corners, and NOT through the eggcrate. Give at least one, but better two full wraps of rope around the PVC elbow at the corner, then tie your favorite knot.

Finished view from underside
Note rope tied around elbow at corner

I don't attach the brick, er, anchor, until I'm on site, since carrying bricks is easier without anything clumsy attached to them, especially when boarding a boat I don't want a hole in the bottom of.

Now all there is left to do is the fun part: deployment and installation.

Load your brick, and platform (which already has rope tied to it) into the boat. Where you place it depends on whether you are trying for roosting usage, or nesting. Nest sites are usually in the vegetation, so your platform might not be visible if you choose this usage.

I usually toss the platform into the water, with rope wrapped around my hand so as not to lose it (or to recover it if it sinks!). Then tie the loose end of the rope to my anchor. Remember it will be holding a lot of weight as you lower the brick so make a good knot. Plus when its getting tugged during a flood event, it will be under force. So, lower the brick slowly, and when you hit bottom, you're done!

I prefer making 1' square platforms for nest sites, and placing them just inside the edges of the aquatic vegetation where they can be hidden from predators. Larger platforms are better for roosting. Two Double-crested Cormorants can roost and dry their wings on a 2' x 4' unit.

One variation I would like to try is with the ABS (non-pressurized sewer line). It is cheaper to buy a bigger diameter piece, which would float more weight. I would silicone a piece of nylon widow screen onto the eggcrate, and then cover it with sand or gravel. Some species might accept this as a nest site, that are turned off by the eggcrate.

Now all that's left to do is watch and record what uses it, and how. I can't express the thrill of seeing birds USING your perch or roost!

I tried threading floating vegetation through the eggcrate to sort of conceal the platform, but the ducks ate it all away quickly.

Note if building 1' square platforms.... the elbows add 1" per elbow, so cut the PVC in 10" maximum (- 9.75 might actually work better) lengths for a 12" piece of eggcrate to sit high and centered on top. You can make EIGHT of them from one piece of eggcrate, and parts for TWO out of every 10' piece of PVC.

Another note: If you glue two elbows on one piece and they are not aligned exactly right, you can cut the piece they are on and rejoin them with a sleeve connector piece to get the angle right on the end elbows when you put your two half pipes back together, humpty dumpty. Don't ask how I know! :):)