Feeding Birds in Winter

In the depths of winter, a flock of colourful birds visiting your home  is reward enough, but for the birds, a visit to feeders helps them get through those long months of cold.  In west central Alberta, feeding stations may get all kinds of feathered visitors, depending on the types of foods you put out.  With suet, you can expect downy and hairy woodpeckers, Whiskey Jacks, Blue Jays, Black Capped and Boreal Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches and Red Breasted Nuthatches.  Seed feeders will get the jays, the nuthatches, the chickadees, plus Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskens, Purple Finches, House Finches and maybe the odd woodpecker. (Boreal chickadees and red breasted nuthatches are less common – you might only see these if you leave near or in a boreal forest area).

The disadvantage of setting up bird feeders is that they draw attention to bird predators, such as cats.  Make sure your feeders provide safe access for birds, where cats cannot access the feeder.  Many of us are guilty of placing our bird feeder by a window but that too can create dangers for our feathered friends.  Bird collisions with windows results in hundreds of thousands of dead birds each year.   Either place the feeder right up against the window so a quickly departing bird doesn’t pick up enough speed to get hurt, or place it at least 7 to 10 metres from a window.

Canada Jay (Whiskey Jack), waiting for a turn at the bird feeder.

Decorating your backyard with homemade, edible bird feeders is a great family project during the holiday season!

Bird Decoration Ideas.

These ideas are designed for cold weather (below freezing) as peanut butter and suet can melt. Peanut butter can harbour harmful bacteria in warm temperatures. Use unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter and nuts.    Use bird safe materials (thick wool, raffia, hemp string).  Fine thread is not bird safe as it can tangle around their legs and neck.

  1. Roll large pine or spruce cones in peanut butter, then roll in bird seed.  Freeze to set.
  2. Cut oranges in half, filling each half with peanut butter/bird seed mix.
  3. Cut multigrain bagels in half, spread with peanut butter, coat with seeds and cranberries.  Freeze to set.
  4. Slide apples and oranges in rounds and hang from your trees with wool or hemp.
  5. Frozen corn cobs can be hung from trees.
  6. Make suet (see below) decorations (rings, stars, etc.) with a mix of suet, bird seeds, berries.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, place large cookie cutter shapes or molds onto the parchment paper.  Poor your hot suet mix into the shapes.  Freeze until set (2 or 3 hours).  Carefully remove the suet decorations from the molds before tying a bit of yarn on and hanging in the trees.

Photo courtesy of http://rebeccasbirdgardensblog.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-christmas-tree-for-birds.html

Suet Recipe

Raw beef fat, available from butchers is a good base for your suet decorations.

Bring your beef fat home, cut it into small pieces and heat the pieces until they completely melt.  Strain the fat through a cheesecloth to remove unwanted bits which can prevent your suet cakes from sticking together.

You can pour it into molds this way, but the birds appreciate it when you add some treats to the suet.

Add any of the items below  melted beef fat:

  • sunflower seeds
  • unsalted nuts
  • bird seed mix
  • rolled oats (not more than 1/3 of your fat amount)
  • unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (not more than 1/4 of your fat amount)
  • dried fruits

Unsafe ingredients – salted nuts, bacon drippings, table scraps should be avoided.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Place cookie cutter shapes or molds on the parchment.  Pour your suet mix into your cookie cutter shapes and molds.  Place your suet cakes carefully in the freezer, keeping the cookie sheet level.  Freeze until set – about 3 hours.

After your suet cakes are set, work quickly to drill holes through them for your wool or hemp string, then hang in safe places around your yard.