Birdfeeders Join the 3-D Printing Craze

Printed Nest helps urban birds chow down in style.

Regular birdfeeders may do the trick, but if you want your backyard avians to feel particularly modern, you can now offer them meals in a 3-D printed feeder.

The Printed Nest is a colorful, 3-D printed birdfeeder bird-lovers can adhere to their walls or windows. While the feeders could be used anywhere, designer Radim Petruska says he envisioned the colorful, modern feeders to invite nature into the urban landscape.

After moving from the small city where he grew up in the Czech Republic to a larger city, Petruska said he felt he lost touch with nature. His co-developers Petr Mazura and Radek Trojan had also moved to the Brno metropolis, and agreed. "There is not too much nature here in cities—that's why we wanted to bring it back," Petruska said.

Printed Nest's oval-shaped feeders, currently in their third design generation, weigh less than a pound each and come equipped with spiky perches for birds to land on. While urban birds run the gamut of sizes and dietary preferences, the design is probably best suited for small, seed-eating species like the House Sparrow, says Emma Greig, project leader for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's FeederWatch program.

Along with House Sparrows, city birds European Starlings and House Finches would likely take advantage of a convenient meal—even if it means coming right up to your apartment window to get it. "Birds love having bushes and trees around their feeder because it offers them a place to hide in the event of a cat or a hawk coming by to spook them," Greig says. "But likely the birds that are going to be [in the city] anyway are already pretty accustomed to hanging around buildings."

In keeping with the urban spirit, Printed Nest is a community-oriented project. Designs for the feeders are open-source and anyone with access to a 3-D printer can download plans online for free. Those without can order color-customized feeders from the developers, who print with eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic, for about 90 euros (about $120). Additionally, Petruska and his colleagues have created an interactive online map where owners of any kind of birdfeeder—"Doesn't matter if the birdfeeder is from us," Petruska says—can pin their locations. The map only has 39 pins currently, but they're spread out across 27 cities and seven countries.

The developers say no one has ordered any nests directly from them yet, but the design has been downloaded more than 700 times.  They plan to push a fourth generation of Printed Nests this fall, which is lighter and cheaper.  They also hope to release their first line of high-tech birdhouses in the spring, complete with embedded video cameras that will allow a sneak peek into the lives of our feathered neighbors. 

Other 3-D printed bird-centric projects have surfaced in the past few years. In 2008, an injured bald eagle got a new lease on life when scientists repaired her ruined beak with a 3-D printed prosthetic. More recently, Dutch company Clear Flight Solutions came out with a set of 3-D printed birds of prey, which could be used to intimidate other birds out of hanging around airports and other dangerous spots.  And a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is using a 3-D printed Olive-sided Flycatcher to attract the elusive species so she can study their migration patterns.

All in all, birds have officially entered the 21st century.