Let’s Feed the Birds!

by, Jo Carol Hebert

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Did you know our feathered friends get cold, too?

The severe elements of the winter season put our wild birds in survival-mode. Birds are slower and more vulnerable to predators and illness. Natural food sources become scarce. Food is often buried under deep snow. Water sources freeze. Insects are dead, underground, or burrowed in tree trunks. The sweet nectar of flowers have come and gone. Seed supplies are exhausted. Trees are bare and camouflage is compromised.

Birds Don’t Count Calories

Birds need more calories in the winter. They must eat up to 3/4 their weight in food each day to provide the energy necessary to fly and forage for food. Backyard fast food places that cater to their nutritional needs are much appreciated by these winter-challenged-avian.

To Migrate or Not to Migrate?

Birds that stay mainly in their resident regions often have aggressive personalities. They are curious, intelligent and resourceful in seeking new food supplies.

A well-planned and maintained feeder with safe, nutritional favorites will attract a variety of small species, including woodpeckers, wrens, nuthatches, chickadees, and jays. Birds that migrate will move on in their time, whether food continues to be available or not.

Did You Know?

  • Birds can eat ‘unsaturated’ fat (they have a rapid metabolism that burns fat quickly)Fzuy93L1_400x400
  • You should NEVER give birds regular bread – there’s no nutritional value in it.
  • Birds love sunflower seeds and peanuts
  • Birds love grapes, apples, and bananas
  • Birds love ‘suet’

What is ‘Suet’?

‘Suet’ is especially good for winter supplemental bird feeding because of its high-fat content that provides energy and warms those little bodies under their thin feathers. Birds will actually nibble on the fat from dead animals in the wild.

Bird Culinary Arts 101

Check out these DIY recipes for winter bird food. There are excellent commercial bird feeds, but wild birds actually love “homemade” vittles.

Serve small amounts and change feeder regularly. Suet can go rancid (rotten).

DIY Suet #1

What You Need

  • 1 pound lard
  • 1 cup oatmeal or cornmeal
  • 1 cup peanuts (*note: peanuts are shelled, organic, and unsalted)              


Step #1 – Melt lard (very carefully, highly flammable) in microwave or saucepan. 

Step #2 – Add ingredients. 

Step #3 – Press in molds (pet food cans, ice cube trays). 

Step #4 – Cool for a few hours. Refrigerate. 

Step #5 – Serve in cakes hung in onion mesh bags. Crumble or chop into bites.

Food Processor Suet #2

What You Need

  • 2 cups peanuts (*note above)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (*note: soak raisins to plump, so they don’t swell in the bird’s little stomach).
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cornmeal


Step #1 – Process peanuts into peanut butter. 

Step #2 – Add raisins and process one minute.

Step #3 – Add cornmeal and process. 

Step #4 – Press into molds and refrigerate. 

Step $5 – Serve pieces or cakes hung in mesh.

DIY Cornbread Junco

What You Need

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup lard
  • 3 cups water


Step #1 – Mix ingredients. 

Step #2 – Bake in a deep pan at 375 for 30-35 minutes. Avoid a hard crust. 

Step #3 – Serve bites, crumbled or cake blocks.

Double or 1/2 the recipe.

Make Pine Cone Feeders

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What You Need

  • Pine cones
  • Suet
  • Peanut butter


Step #1 – Collect the pine cones. 

Step #2 – Spread suet or just peanut butter on, around, and in between the crevices of the cone.

Step #3 – Roll in prepared or bought seeds. 

Step #4 – Secure a bright red ribbon around the top of the pine cone. 

Step #5 – Hang it on a tree branch.

Let’s Be Compassionate!

When you’re baking inside your warm and cozy kitchen, think of preparing a meal for the birds outside. A wild bird will decide to accept your hospitality and reward you with a song and a pop of color in the bleak and barren landscape of your winter backyard.

When you actually begin to recognize each bird and can say his name, it’s a ‘forever’ relationship.

The Language of the Birds

Take a moment from your ‘busy-ness’. Listen to the birds. Note, count, and rejoice in the patterns of their trills and chirps.

And how do you talk back to a bird? You learn to whistle!

Let us know how you feed your feathered friends.

Watch this live video from Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam at Sapsucker Woods.

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