Birchbark Birdhouse

Lesson submitted by Peg Makkyla (3rd grade teacher) of Tower-Sudan School.

The land around Lake Superior does not contain much clay, making pottery scarce for the people who lived there. However, the paper birch tree grows in profusion in this area, and sheets and panels of its strong, papery bark can be cut and carved from a tree for use. Skilled harvesting of the bark, done at the proper season of the year, does not fatally injure the tree. In addition, if the birch wood rots, the bark can still be used (and is then even easier to harvest).

Birchbark - or Wiigwaasi in the Anishinabeg (Ojibwe) language - is an important material used for many things in the traditional and contemporary culture. It played a key role in creating durable packages and utensils for storage and everyday use. Well made birchbark containers were nearly waterproof and could be used to store soluble goods such as maple sugar. A birchbark bird house is a safe and dry place for birds. Making things from birchbark was, and is, an essential element in the culture of the Anishinabe people and other Native Americans of the Upper Great Lakes, particularly in the regions surrounding Lake Superior. Birchbark birdhouses continue to be made by Anishinabe people for heritage heirloom and tourist trade.

Materials Needed


Art Materials


Activity Process


Introduce students to real birchbark items (use example links or bring in materials), discuss the natural qualities of birchbark (waterproof, antifungal), and share what Ojibwe people have traditionally used birchbark for.


Demonstrate each step in the activity process.


  1. Students are given a fallen birchbark cylinder and wood (younger students are given cylinders with pre-cut holes for birds to come and go through).
  2. Students draw the circumference of both ends of their cylinder on wood and write their name in the middle on the bottom (they might indicate the width of their birchbark so whoever cuts the wood can adjust accordingly so that the wood will fit inside the cylinder).
  3. The wood can be taken to the high school wood shop to be cut out by high school students. (Birds are pretty light so if wood is not the ideal flooring material, you can find a lighter alternative.)
  4. While the wood is being cut, older students cut out circles for birds to enter and exit birdhouse.
  5. Once the wood circles are returned, the students glue the edges of their circles and slip them into the birchbark cylinder on both ends.
  6. Students can make a decorative roof using another birchbark piece cut in the shape of a circle, made into a cone, and glued to the top of the birdhouse. They can use other found materials for the decorative roof.
  7. Students decorate with Anishinabe (Ojibwe) floral patterns or designs of their choice.
  8. Students add a way to hang the birdhouse (either a screw eye or a "L" bracket ).


Students share with the class their birdhouse and choices for design. The birdhouses will then be put in the school's display case.


Reflection questions based on student's knowledge and understanding of:

Vocabulary Words


Students were very proud of their bird houses! They also make great gifts for family and friends.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards




Social Studies