A Bird’s Menu
Carolyn Gritzmaker Indian Trail Master Naturalist
This week in our continuing series on feeding birds, we will discuss the various types of seeds and other foods such as suet mixes which you can prepare now to have on hand when colder weather arrives.
Quite a variety of seeds are available at your local feed store. Sunflower seed, thistle, millet, cracked corn and wild bird seed mixes are some which can usually be purchased either by the pound or in bulk.
Obviously, if you offer a wide variety of foods at your feeding stations, a wide variety of birds will visit your feeders. But even if you use only one type of feed, sunflower seed for instance, you will still have a lot of birds come in. Red-bellied, red-headed and downy woodpeckers, blue jays, Caroline chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, purple finches, pine siskins, goldfinches, juncos, Harris sparrows, white-crowned, white-throated and song sparrows all like sunflower seeds.
Beef suet is a tasty and inexpensive food that many birds love. It also provides them with energy and warmth in cold weather. The best kind of suet to feed birds is short, or kidney, suet because it isn’t stringy. But any kind of beef suet will do. Use it alone, cut into chunks and placed in a suet feeder. This should only be offered during cold weather when the temperature is below 70 degrees. It will quickly turn rancid in warmer weather.
Suet can also be melted down for seed cakes, bird puddings, and mixes. It is easier to melt if you run it through a grinder first. Then heat it in a double boiler to render it to liquid form. When it cools and begins to thicken, you can mix in seeds, nuts and dried chopped fruit, then pack it into forms, such as tuna cans, or lined cupcake pans, into suet logs and feeders. Use your imagination for the mix; canary seed, white millet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanut kernels, raisins, apples, grapes and berries all work well. You can also add peanut butter to the mix. If you don’t want to render suet, bacon drippings can be used instead. This, however, has a tendency to melt in warm weather. Once the birds know to expect this tasty treat at your feeders though, it usually won’t last long enough to melt!
Last year we had a mockingbird that would sit in the tree with the suet feeder and look in the window until I came out to fill it up. A cupcake of suet mix with fruits and peanut butter would not last more than thirty minutes. Chickadees, titmice, cardinals and white-crown sparrows all waited their turn at the feeder. Here’s my own recipe for “Mockingbird Mash.” It really is a soft peanut butter mix. Use one part peanut butter, two parts yellow cornmeal, one part chopped fruit, one half part jelly or preserves and one part melted suet or bacon drippings. Mix well and spoon into lined cupcake pans. Place in freezer until firm and package in freezer bags. Keep it in the freezer until ready to serve. Place one in the suet cup each day, and soon the mockingbirds will be looking in your windows!
Another way to use peanut butter is to mix it with equal parts of cornmeal and seeds if you wish, then pack it into holes in log feeders or pinecones, or place as-is on feeding trays. You can also smear it on tree trunks for the birds.
A fun way to serve peanuts is to string whole nuts in the shells on a wire about 18 inches long. Be sure to bend the ends so the nuts won’t slip off. Then hang it by one end from a tree or bird table. Blue jays love it and are quite a sight to watch as they hang from the wire, cracking the shells.