Human Nature Nuggets

Unlike sheer instinct, human nature involves individual thought as to how we should handle or improve various situations. As homo sapiens, we never know what will happen as a result, but each of us tries by doing what we think is the best solution. Here are some examples…

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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

I am a writer at heart, a proofreader by trade, but without a soul if it were not for the nuthatches crawling down my trees, the robins, chickadees, cardinals, and yes, the much-maligned jibbering starlings that create their own unique concerts. I have wildflowers and perennials squeezed into my front and back yards and along the curb of my house in the city. My greatest job: I was a reporter for a locally-based newspaper, where I wrote human interest and news articles, but now I am a freelance writer, both online and in print. See MY ONLINE ARTICLES on how to ATTRACT BIRDS and BUTTERFLIES, and the HEALTHIEST NATURAL FOODS at my contributor page

Sunday, December 04, 2005

How to Attract and What to Feed Birds in the Winter: Give them a holiday season all winter long

Every winter the birds seem to be flocked around my feeders in desperation, their feathers fluffed up against the cold, trying to snatch a seed or two before another one chases it away. The ground underneath is covered with other birds vying to grab any seeds that fall down. On weekends, when I’m home during the daylight, not only am I able to keep refilling the feeders, but I toss bits of bread and fruit, or leftover cooked potatoes, peas and pancakes on the ground, and the squirrels and birds compete with each other until it’s gone. After all, I figure, it’s harder for birds to survive during the winter, so why not let them have a season to celebrate, too?

Therefore, I thought you’d appreciate some tips for feeding the birds during the winter that I’ve learned over the years, including how to make your own suet and how to make your own birdseed mix. Quick tips: For one thing, use as many separate feeders as possible. To keep squirrels away from your feeders, hang them at least 5 – 6 in. off the ground and 8 in. from a tree. For seed storage; to keep your supply dry and protected from rodents, we keep our seeds in separate metal garbage cans outside; one for the mixed seed, the other for sunflower seeds. I just keep the thistle in the house, either in the plastic bag it came in, or in a glass jar.

I have one feeder for mixed seeds, which includes cracked corn and sunflower seeds, and that gets the most traffic. The cardinals seem to prefer it, too. (See how to make your own mixed batch of seeds further down.)

At my sunflower seed feeder in the winter, I get chickadees, cardinals and woodpeckers. Where winters aren’t as harsh, other birds you’ll attract are the tufted titmouse, evening grosbeak, white-breasted nuthatch, bluejay, purple finch and American goldfinch.

At my thistle feeder in the winter: dark-eyes juncos, sparrows, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Where winters aren’t as harsh, you’ll get: American goldfinch, purple finch, house finch, pine siskin, house sparrow.

At my suet container in the winter, chickadees, and yes, starlings, (but I love their “music”), and definitely various woodpeckers. Where winters aren’t as harsh: downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch. (See more about suet, and my homemade suet recipe, further down.)

I don’t have a feeder for cracked corn, so I don’t know which birds I’d get in the winter, but in less harsh climates, you’ll attract: mourning dove, bluejay, house sparrow, tree sparrow, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird.

I don’t have a millet feeder either, so again I don’t know which birds I would get, but in less harsh climates: mourning dove, house sparrow, tree sparrow, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird.

*To make your own birdseed mix: Pour about 20 pounds of white proso millet, 10 pounds of cracked corn and 25 pounds of black-oil sunflower seed into a metal trash can and use a broom handle to mix it up.

*Suet: The overall winner, health-wise for the birds and their most preferable form, especially in the winter, is those chunks of beef suet I get in the meat department at grocery stores, but they’re hard to find. Ask the butcher, because some say their distributors don’t carry it. Otherwise, you can buy those processed suet cakes where bird seed is sold in “regular” stores, and they don’t turn rancid in hot weather.

To make your own suet: Every time you fry hamburgers or any meat where the fat runs off, pour the fat into an empty soup can and refrigerate it. Meanwhile, every time you have leftovers, be it meat, or vegetables including potatoes and peas, put them together in a container and refrigerate it. When you have enough to fill your suet container, you’ll have to thaw your saved fat first, because it will have hardened, but only make it a bit soft. If you scoop it out into a microwave-safe bowl, you can “nuke” it. Then throw in the leftover food you saved, stir everything together and put the conglomeration into your suet container. How’s that for recycling food?

We’ve only had snow and cold here for about a week, but the birds are getting so used to me clomping out in my boots and jacket to give them more food, they barely fly away any more. Happy Holidays!


Blogger kathy said...

Thanks for the bird feed tips! Birds are wonderful creatures! i love them too! I have to becareful around my home when it comes to feeding the birds, i have four cats that also love birds. So i can't put food out for them. Sounds like the birds love you! i would if i was a bird :)

12/04/2005 9:55 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Last winter, quite by accident, I found that chickadess love peanut butter.

12/05/2005 5:22 AM  
Anonymous Maureen said...

Thanks for the great tips, Darlene! I can't wait to try out your neat ideas for making suet from leftovers.

12/08/2005 5:02 AM  
Blogger Darlene said...

Kathy, I love you for saying that! As for not putting any feeders out because of your cats, if you made sure it was high and away from any trees, you can feed some birds! Just use one of those big sunflower seed feeders that are encased in wire and have a circular-gizmo around them that's a stand for the birds to sit on while they eat. The gizmo dealy is meant to be set for weight, so if larger birds sit on the stand, the opening for the seeds will shut due to their weight. And believe me, it works! So I get woodpeckers and chickadees, and in the summer nuthatches and goldfinches.

But the point is, THESE BIRDS AREN'T GROUNDFEEDERS! Therefore, you wouldn't have to worry about your cats getting at them on the ground. Occasionally I'll get sparrows on my sunflower feeder, but because of the enclosing wire, none of the seeds fall on the ground. So the birds are safe. Oh, you should get one. The other birds just take a seed and flit away, but the goldfinches throng around it and linger for a long time. You'd be delighted!

12/08/2005 10:22 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

Anvilcloud, super thanks for the tip! Hmmm, do I dare ask what happened to make you find out? By the way, one of our friends was drinking from a can of pop, put it on the porch ledge, and a hummingbird tried to sip from the can! Neat, huh?

Maureen, thank you! Can't wait to hear the results. I remember when I first tried it years ago, it too a good week or so before any birds came, but now they always do. Sometimes in the winter I get lazy and just stick leftovers like chicken or turkey, both the meat and the skin, or big chunks of potato and meat from a leftover roast, right in the suet feeder without the fat holding it, but the birds don't care. They still chomp down. What's fun is when you use the "drippings" and accumulated fat to make suet, you can really use your imagination as to what foods to add. But I guess I should warn you, the fat itself will tend to smell a bit. Enjoy!

12/08/2005 10:50 PM  

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