Feeding birds year-round isn’t necessary, I know. There’s a delicate balance between creating dependent wildlife when natural resources are already plentiful. But in a winter like this, I think all rules go out the window. Each time I look out at the old maple tree in the yard, my eyes go up to the group of dark, huddled birds sitting upon its empty branches. The winds here have been fierce, and the thick layer of snow that covers the ground has made any kind of natural foraging all but impossible for them.
When this Arctic freeze started, I would toss a few odds and ends of scrap food out the window: the crusts of my kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, leftover toast crumbs and popcorn kernels. I didn’t know if they’d get lost in the snow or if the birds would find them, but I figured at least there was a chance they’d find them. Some mornings I’d awaken to Mourning Doves sitting right on my window ledge, looking into my living room window; other mornings I’d hear the twittering of happy Starlings pecking around in the snow, triumphantly finding the crusty scraps.
Even a scrawny squirrel or two has made its way over to our window and scampered along the edge, peering at the ground where the birds were eating. I can’t imagine that anything out in these subzero temperatures couldn’t use a little bit of extra calories to keep their energy up and to keep them warm.
We have a flock of European Starlings who visit our yard. These birds get a little possessive when they eat and prefer ground scraps, so I thought that the kids and I would make up some bird seed cookies that hang in order to feed some of the other, less aggressive birds, while still providing ground scraps to the starlings. This birdseed cookie recipe is one that I learned to make in elementary school and have continued to make through the years.
For the cooking fat, birds love lard. I usually have my mom and other meat-eaters in my family save their bacon grease for me and I save a good bit of lard in the back of my refrigerator especially for this, but you can substitute it for peanut butter just as easily. We do blends of lard and peanut butter with great success.
This is a great project for kids, too. The ingredients are easy to put together and a lot of fun for them, and it gives them a sense of responsibility and connection to the environment to help provide other living creatures with sustenance.
- cooking fat or peanut butter
- food coloring (optional)
- bird seed, bread crumbs, raisins, dried apples, nuts, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, popcorn, anything small that birds like to eat*
- bread slices, stale or otherwise
- ribbon or yarn
Mix the cooking fat or peanut butter with food coloring. This step is optional, but bright colors will make it easy for the birds to locate. Add the bird food and mix well until thick. Cut the bread slices into shapes with cookie cutters if desired, and then spread the mixture on. Poke a hole on the top of each. Take the string and tie it through the hole and around the bread. Hang up in a bush or a tree and let them birds have themselves a little feast.
Crocheters: I made a chain of 25 for the ribbon.
* Remember that there are foods that are toxic to birds, including chocolate, uncooked beans and onion, so be certain that what you’re using has no traces of these (such as in the case of trail mix or onion seasoning or so on).
I hope your birdies as as happy as ours to get a midwinter treat!
~ Mellie ★