There are many options when it comes to commercially made bird food for anyone interested in feeding birds. I have found it to be less expensive and more satisfying, however to either buy birdseed locally or make and grow my own treats. Following are some recipes and ideas that I have enjoyed using to attract wild birds to my yard.
Making hummingbird nectar is very easy to do:
1 Cup Sugar
4 Cups Water (Preferrably filtered or rain water)
Mix together the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Allow to boil for 1 minute, then remove the mixture from heat and allow to fully cool. Pour the mixture into your feeders and hang. Change the mixture every three days, and wash the feeders before adding new nectar.
Tree Trunk Bacon Grease Treat
Save the grease from your breakfast bacon to make a good winter treat for birds:
1 Cup Bacon Grease (cooled)
1 Cup Peanut Butter
2 Cups Cornmeal (you may need to adjust the amount to get the right consistency)
Mix the grease and peanut butter together. Gradually add the cornmeal until it reaches a good spreading consistency. Store in an airtight container. To use this treat, spread it onto the trunk of a tree, a post, or a feeder similar to this one:
As you can see, my red-breasted nuthatches really like this stuff, as well as the white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and sparrows.
Rendering suet is not for everybody; it takes time and can have an upleasant odor. However, if you have access to free or cheap beef fat, or really enjoy making bird treats (as I do), it is an easy enough project that can be less expensive than buying suet cakes. You can also add ingredients that you know birds in your area prefer:
Chop the suet into samll chunks. Place the suet in a large, covered roasting pan, and put it into an oven heated to 250 degrees F. You will get the most out of your suet if you render it slowly, at a low heat. Occassionally check the suet to see how it is progressing. Once most of it has melted, and the remaining chunks are turning brown and crispy, the suet is done.
At this point, you can let it cool a little, and then strain out the chunks through cheesecloth or a mesh strainer. You can mix in other ingredients if you would like, such as peanut butter, raisins, or cornmeal. Pour the suet into molds, such as yogurt containers or tuna cans, and allow to harden. Store suet cakes in the freezer until you're ready to use them.
Fruit for Birds
Many birds enjoy eating some fruit. Many fruits can be grown to put out for birds:
- Apples: Cut apples in half and skewer onto tree branches or nails to attract robins, bluejays, bluebirds, woodpeckers, gray catbirds, and many others.
- Oranges: Cut oranges in half and skewer onto tree branches or nails to attract orioles, woodpeckers, thrashers, tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and many others.
- Grapes: Hang bunches of grapes from tree branches or shepard's hooks to attract robins, mockingbirds, bluebirds, towhees, woodpeckers, and many others.
In additions to these fruits, you might also want to try: cranberries, raisins, berries, and jellies.
You can use a couple handfuls of purchased birdseed to grow your own birdseed garden. Find a nice, sunny spot in your yard where you can add a garden (be sure you can see it well from a window if you birdwatch from inside). Work up the soil just as you would for a flower or vegetable garden. Add a layer compost if desired and mix it into the soil.
Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the garden, and lightly rake them into the soil. Keep the soil evenly moist, with a gentle watering until the seeds begin to sprout. Usually, once the seeds have sprouted, there is not much more that needs to be done. Allow the plants to grow and reach full maturity. Let the plants to go to seed and dry on the stalk. Be sure you save some of the seeds to plant for next year before the birds eat them all! Birds will harvest these seeds in the fall and winter.
Some plants that are good to include in a birdseed garden are: sunflowers, millet, safflower, wheat, cosmos, purple coneflower, zinnias, and coreopsis.
Feeding birds is a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing activity, and so is making your own bird treats!