While feeding birds has become part of our ecosystem (more than 100 species of North American birds supplement their diets with food provided by feeders), young and old also often find it an enjoyable hobby. One surefire way to attract feathered friends come winter is by concocting a batch of suet.
Suet — a mixture of rendered fat, bird seed, and other treats – offers up plenty of customization options. Different birds have different food preferences, and suet can easily be adjusted to what types of birds the bird feeding enthusiast wants to feed.
A basic recipe for suet is a good start. The following works well for attracting woodpeckers, flickers, chickadees, and the occasional blue jay:
1 cup lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups oatmeal
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour (all-purpose works, too)
1 ½ cups bird seed
Melt lard and peanut butter slowly on low heat. Add remaining ingredients. Place in desired containers for shaping and storage, and freeze until use.
The oatmeal and bird seed are open to interpretation. One basic tip, according to the National Bird-Feeding Association, is to select a bird seed mix with a high proportion of sunflower seeds, as these tend to attract the widest variety of birds, from grosbeaks to titmice to woodpeckers. Other add-ins include shelled peanuts (great for woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches); and, according to Wild Birds Forever, dried fruit like raisins (woodpeckers and waxwings). These guidelines can apply to basic bird feeders as well, or birds who feed on the ground (not all birds eat suet; it pays to do a little extra homework for the best birding experience).
Suet-making can also translate into “cabinet-cleaning”. Some birds find bread products desirable. Instead of oatmeal (or for part of the oatmeal), substitute cake and cookie crumbs, stale cereal or granola, and – heaven forbid! – any wormy or otherwise inedible grain or bread products, as long as they are in small, bird-sized pieces.
Different ways to shape the suet, as suggested by the “Nutty Birdwatcher’s” Web site, include rolling cooled suet into balls, placing the suet into small loaf pans lined with plastic wrap, and spreading on pine cones (great for kids). Then simply freeze. When feeding time arrives, cut into desired shape, and hang in a mesh back or in a suet feeder. Be sure, however, to hang your suet at least five feet from ground level. Suet can be deadly to dogs and other pets.
If you still have the urge to provide your backyard visitors with special treats in the warmer months, you can also provide them with peanut butter pudding. The Audubon Society-provided recipe is simple: one part peanut butter, five parts corn meal. Mix and stuff into the crevices of pinecones or into a log with holes in it.
It’s hard to beat seeing a new species outside your window after you’ve put out your latest recipe. Bird-watching has a reputation of being most fruitful in the spring and summer, but with some creativity and knowledge, fall and winter can be just as exciting (if not more!).
“Bird Feeding Basics”, National Audubon Society, http://birds.audubon.org/bird-feeding-basics
“Wild Bird Food Preferences”, National Bird-Feeding Society, http://www.birdfeeding.org/best-backyard-bird-feeding-practices/bird-seed-and-other-bird-food/wild-bird-food-preferences.html
“Wild Bird Feeding Preferences”, Wild Birds Forever, http://www.wildbirdsforever.com/chart.html
“Suet Facts, Feeders, & Recipes”, Nutty Birdwatcher, http://www.birdnature.com/suet.html
“Selecting Seeds”, National Audubon Society, http://birds.audubon.org/selecting-seeds