Don’t forget our feathered friends this winter!

December 12, 2011 at 10:11 AM Leave a comment

Feed the birds holiday treats

New book sends bird lovers to the pantry and fridge

By Barbara Mahany, Tribune Newspapers4:28 p.m. CST, November 17, 2011
With darkness tiptoeing in earlier by the day, and that nip back in the air, we find our noses pressed against the panes, keeping watch on the gentle flocks that animate the land beyond our windows.
It’s the season of traditions, and at our house that means gathering up pine cones and pulling peanut butter from the pantry. It’s time to feed the birds, yes, but we take it up a notch for the holidays.
Indeed, says ornithologist David Bonter, assistant director of citizen science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in Ithaca, N.Y., who endorses Martin’s thrifty ways. Except for dairy foods, which birds can’t digest, or salty, processed foods, he wholly endorses feeding your birds straight from the fridge and pantry.

Anyone hungry for a bacon-grease-and-stale-cornflake glop, smeared on a log?


Basic budget suetDoesn’t get much cheaper than this. And the birds, who burn calories the way we wish we did, will gobble it pretty much the way we like to hit the holiday cookie tins.

You’ll need: About 1 1/3 cups peanut butter, 1 1/2 cups lard, 1 large loaf of white bread

Here’s what you’ll do: Melt peanut butter and lard in a large, microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Start with one minute on high, then stir and continue microwaving in 30-second increments until completely melted. Meanwhile, tear the bread into small bits. Once the PB&L is melted, stir in the bread. Store in refrigerator to make firmer, or in freezer to harden. Serve crumbled in a tray or cut into cakes to fit your feeder.

Mix it up: If you want to take it up a notch, skip the bread bits and mix in seeds, dried fruits or whatever crumbs you find in your pantry. Smear inside cookie cutters before freezing, or freeze on baking sheet and cut out with cookie cutters. Thread through a string or yarn, and voila, you’ve got suet cakes to hang on backyard boughs.

Adapted from “Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success”

Birdseed bell

You’ll need: Small clay pots (3- to 4-inch diameter with drainage holes), aluminum foil or parchment paper, pliers, wire (8- to 10-inch length), 2 egg whites per cup of birdseed of choice (you’ll need about a cup of seed per bell).

What you’ll do: Line each pot with foil or parchment. Using pliers, shape one end of wire into a closed loop, and bend so loop is at right angle to rest of the wire.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Then, beat the egg whites in a bowl until fluffy but still liquid; add birdseed, stirring until thoroughly coated. Fill each pot, packing firmly. Poke the straight end of wire through seed mix, and thread through drainage hole. Pull until loop end is embedded in the mix. Now, bend other end of wire (the part sticking through the drainage hole) flush against the pot bottom. It may be tipsy, that’s OK; set the pot on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

When bells are set, slip out of pots; let cool slightly before peeling away the liner. (Be careful not to touch the wire while it’s hot.) Once cooled, use the pliers to bend the wire at the top of each bell into a loop or hook for hanging.

A handy who-eats-what chart

Seed eaters

What: Fruit and vegetable seeds, bread, cereal, and grain scraps

How: Tray feeder (one with a roof is extra thoughtful), hanging tube

Which birds might dine: Chickadee, cardinal, junco, house finch, dove, sparrow, titmouse

Suet eaters

What: Grease, fat from meats, meat scraps

How: Add to yogurt cup or tuna can stapled or nailed to a flat board; apply as thick paste smeared onto tree bark or a small log or board drilled with holes.

Which birds might dine: Nuthatch, chickadee, mockingbird, blue jay, house finch, woodpecker

Fun bird facts:

In a single day, a chickadee snatches and stores anywhere from 250 to 300 sunflower seeds, according to scientists who tagged the little creature to track how it stocks up for winter. No wonder your feeders seem always on empty.

And check this out: A single bird can recall as many as 3,000 seed-storing spots. And you have trouble tracking your car keys.

— B.M.


Entry filed under: Just for fun., Nature Notes.

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