Early each morning, I pour a cup of coffee and check my email for Fine Gardening magazine’s Garden Photo of the Day. A perk for subscribers, readers from all over the world submit pictures and stories of their gardens. It’s a great way to start the day.
Earlier this year, a garden in Central Vermont’s Zone 4 was featured. While winter is always a long season there, COVID quarantines left one gardener with even more time on her hands. So Cheryl decided to throw a party for wild birds, and you should, too.
Several types of feeders place at varied heights and locations in the garden will attract a wider variety of bird species to the party. Many of us have been feeding wild birds for years, but maybe it’s time to offer a new type of feeder.
Covered tray feeders, hopper feeders and tube feeders attract an array of seed-eating birds, while a mesh sock or specialty thistle feeder may bring in more finches. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, black oil sunflower seed attracts the widest variety of birds and, because of its thin shell, is easy for almost all seed eaters to crack open. It also provides a high fat content that is important for birds’ winter survival.
For the past three winters, overwintering Anna’s hummingbirds visited the heated nectar feeder I hang outside my kitchen window. The heat generated from a low-watt light bulb housed below the nectar receptacle is all it takes to keep the liquid from freezing. (Nectar in unheated standard feeders will begin to freeze at 27 degrees) On the coldest days of winter, a handful of hummers arrive just as the sun comes up, and buzz in throughout the day.
It really isn’t a party unless there are special treats for birds to eat. Making them yourself is easy. A perfect holiday project for Yakima gardeners, you’ll have even more fun if you make these with children.
BIRD SEED COOKIES
4 cups wild bird food (you can add sunflower seeds, meal worms, cracked corn, peanuts, chopped dried fruit, nuts, or pumpkin seeds for a total of 4 cups)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin (a one ounce box contains 4 envelopes) dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
1/4 cup flour mixed into 1/3 cup water
Cookie cutters or other small molds such as canning jar rings
3-inch sections of small twigs or skewers to make the holes for hanging
Twine for hanging
Spray cookie cutters or molds with non-stick spray and place on a cookie sheet. Simple shapes are easier to unmold than shapes with many angles.
Empty the gelatin into a large bowl, add the hot water, and stir until gelatin dissolves.
Mix flour and water together in a small bowl to form a smooth paste. Add the flour paste to the gelatin mixture and stir to combine. This is the binder that will hold the seeds together.
Add the bird food and stir until well combined.
Fill the cookie cutters with the mixture, taking care to press it firmly in place. This step is important. The more packed the seed mixture is, the better the cookies will unmold and hold their shape. I found this recipe will make 7-8 average size cookies.
Make a small hole with the twig or skewer for the twine at least 1 inch down from the edge of the mold. This placement will keep the twine from breaking through the hole when hung. Leave the skewers in place until the cookies dry.
Let air dry for several days and then carefully unmold.
Thread the twine through the hole in the cookie and make a loop.
Hang in a dry, protected location where the birds will have a branch or perch nearby to sit on while they eat.
PINE CONE FEEDERS are even easier to make. Gently brush off any dirt on the pine cone. Tie a string in a secure loop around the top of the cone, leaving enough string to attach it to a branch. Spread a generous layer of peanut butter on the pine cone, making sure all the nooks and crannies are filled. Roll the cone in wild bird food until well-covered, pressing the seeds into the peanut butter to make sure they stick. Hang the feeder on a tree branch or in a shrubby location where birds can perch while enjoying their treat. This feeder is best used in the winter. Hot summer temperatures can melt peanut butter into a messy and rancid mess.
Every day is a party if you garden with birds in mind. Plant native berries or fruit trees, and let some flowers go to seed in the fall. While birds rely on foods in the environment, they will supplement with seed, suet and fruit from feeders when it’s hard to find natural sources, especially after a snowfall. If that’s not reason enough to keep your feeders full, then the amazing sights and sounds of birds, just outside your window, should do it.
In addition to food, try to provide as many different habitats as possible, whether in birdhouses, natural tree cavities, copses of ornamental grasses and dried perennials, or evergreens and shrubs.
Most of us think about feeding birds during the winter months, but experts say we can do it all year long. Food can be hard to find at any time of year for wild birds, so giving them an easy meal when they need it can help boost their survival rates.
Each time you refill the feeder, check to be sure food remains dry and fresh. Any seeds that are clumped, moldy or sprouting should be discarded. Thoroughly clean all feeders at least once a month. Wearing disposable gloves, scrub them with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Rinse and dry before refilling. Be sure to only hang as many feeders as you can responsibly and reliably maintain.
Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife asked residents to remove feeders to help stop the spread of salmonellosis, a fatal bird disease. Officials say it’s now safe to put the feeders back up.