by Deborah Rayfield
Winter birds, just like Santa, love fresh cookies. In the past, I’ve bought commercial suet cakes that seem to languish when placed in the hanging basket. One year, I experimented with adding other goodies to the pre-purchased suet cake and the birds flocked to the tasty treat. After all, isn’t homemade favored over store bought in the human realm? Instead of starting from scratch, this recipe is similar to the “doctoring-the-cake-mix” procedure.
1 commercial suet cake, your choice of “flavor”
1 cup steel-cut oats or regular oatmeal (not instant)
1 cup coarse corn grits or cornmeal
½ cup raw nut meats, chopped fine
½ cup raisins or other dried fruit, chopped fine
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup white millet or sunflower seeds, optional
Break up the suet cake in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon. Add the remaining ingredients and mix with the spoon or your hands. Pat out cookies into rounds about one-half inch thick onto wax paper. Make the cookies as large as you like. Cut the paper into strips so that the cookies have wax paper between them. Stack them into a freezer bag and clearly label. This is an important step as helpful husband has been known to mistake the bird cookies for a hidden stash of granola snacks. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more oatmeal or a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour. If it’s too dry, add more peanut butter. When ready to use, place the cookie into a commercial suet cake basket.
Feasting at the basket, you should see chickadees, titmice, wrens, kinglets and warblers. In particular, look for the ruby-crowned kinglet and the orange-crowned warbler. The kinglet is a tiny bird, about four-inches long. Its upper body is olive green and the under parts are grayish pale yellow. The male has an inconspicuous tuft of red crown feathers that is displayed when he gets agitated. Both sexes have a white eye ring that look like spectacles. These birds are very active, constantly hopping from one branch to the next.
The orange-crowned warbler is slighter larger at five inches. The upper body is olive green and the under parts are faintly streaked pale yellow. The overall impression is a delicately shaded yellow-green bird. If you look closely, you will see the orange crown on the male bird though sometimes the female will show a faint crown. The warblers will make repeated trips to the suet cakes and linger, insuring that you get a good long look.
Besides supplying a welcome treat, suet cakes serve as a much needed source of energy during the winter months. The birds will thank you and Santa will put you on the good list.