Christmas bird food
By Kate Crowley
I know that the birds are supposed to be protected by their layers of feathers from our winter weather, but when the temps drop into the minus 20’s overnight, I really wonder how any of them survive. They must deal with more than 12 hours of darkness without benefit of external sources of heat, like the wood stove that glows with its warmth in our living room. But every morning, we are blessed with the movement and antics of our resident birds (all 17 wild turkeys included). Mike gladly goes out each morning to refill the sunflower feeders and the suet feeders if they need it. He also spreads a wild bird seed mix on the ground. The turkeys are watching unseen for this earliest feeding and immediately swoop down from the pine trees or race up the front field in single file to forage as fast as possible on the seeds and grain he has spread for them. Then they retire to the top railing of our fence where they perch until they get hungry again and resume their pecking in the snow.
The species of birds that are seed eaters have seen growth in their populations as the practice of feeding birds has exploded across the country. It is a fascinating and fun hobby that not only provides us with insights into bird behavior, but it also is a lifesaver for many birds in these cold northern winters. Understand that we are not replacing their natural diet, nor making them dependent on us. They are still very capable of finding food in the forests and fields if need be, but our offerings of ‘free’ food most definitely allow for greater survival, especially in the winter months. I think of it as a win-win situation.
As we approach the Christmas holiday, you may be struggling to come up with a gift for a friend or relative. I would suggest a gift of bird seed (black sunflower seeds are the best bet) for someone who is already feeding the birds, and a bird feeder with some seeds as a starter kit for someone who hasn’t gotten hooked on this activity yet. Even people living in apartment buildings, if they have a balcony, can participate. This can be especially rewarding for the elderly who aren’t able to get out much in the winter time. To watch the activity around a bird feeder is to be captivated for long periods of time. It never gets old. Once again we have a win-win situation. While giving a gift to your friend or relative, you are also giving a gift to the birds.
Besides seeds, there is also the option of suet cakes. These are commercially made square blocks of fat and seeds or fruit that are especially attractive to woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. Suet also has the added benefit of offering almost immediate energy and conversion to body heat. You can also buy beef suet in grocery stores in the meat section. We have noticed that the birds actually prefer this over the commercial mixed varieties. It is exactly what they would be looking for out in the woods – a carcass with fatty tissue exposed.
Maybe you have grown the large varieties of sunflowers and have managed to save some of the flower heads to offer the birds in the winter. If not, the only other option is to buy bags of seeds. Now days, you can find them in grocery stores, hardware stores, the agricultural Co-ops and of course the big box stores, but you can continue to extend your good deeds by buying from local stores. If you are not able to get out to the stores, there is a local (Moose Lake) on-line Bird Seed retailer. It is known as Prdseed.com. All sorts of bird food and feeders are available through this site and shipping is included.
If you’d like to give a handmade version of suet, it is easy enough to do. Just melt some shortening – although I prefer lard, along with some peanut butter (or any other nut butter) and then pour this over a mixture of quick oats, corn meal and assorted dried fruits (cut into small pieces). If you have any bird seen handy this can be added. I have not given measurements, because you can just experiment with ingredients and quantities. Mix it into a doughy consistency and then spoon the mixture into a container that can go in the freezer; some people use ice-cube trays. After freezing for just one or two hours you can take it out and put it in a suet feeder, or if you want to go low tech, use an empty mesh bag; the kind onions and lemons or Clementines come in. Hang it on a branch or hook near your home and watch the birds come in.
We all enjoy the extra treats that people share with one another during this Holiday Season. Why not extend that generosity to our beautiful feathered friends?