Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
I am a bird watcher at heart. One of my favorite hobbies in winter is to water and feed the birds and to identify the different species in my area. Despite the weather I always make sure there is a bowl of fresh water outside. I have seen many birds drink out of my dog's water bowl, and they still use the bird bath if it isn't frozen. On warmer days many birds will even take a bath from time to time.
I love to feed the birds, and most of the time the squirrels enjoy a lot of the same food as well. Instead of going crazy trying to repel the squirrels, I have decided to accept their needs and let them have their fill of treats. The squirrels are around all the time anyway -- so why not feed them?
I begin by making sure my bird feeders are clean and dry so that the seeds will not become moldy. Most birds and squirrels seem to enjoy the basic seed mixture you can buy in most stores. The mix mainly consists of black sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet. This type of seed can be used in any regular bird feeder. Smaller birds enjoy thistle seed, and there are special bird feeders that hold this type of seed.
Every year I try to find some new treats for my friends, and to keep the cost down I like to create the treats myself. Dried fruits of all kinds can be purchased, but if you have a food dehydrator or oven you can make dried fruit yourself. For example, core and slice an apple into 1/4" thick rounds and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure they do not touch. Set your oven to 150-200 degrees and bake the fruit slices, checking them every hour and turning them over when one side seems dry. Dried fruit is not only good for our wild friends, but a great snack for you too. Once the apples are dried and cooled, spread them with peanut butter and sprinkle them with seeds or chopped peanuts. You can hang them from tree branches. Oranges, lemons and limes can also be sliced into rounds, dried and hung up the same way. You can also hang the citrus fruits without drying them as they will not turn brown or spoil as easy as other fruits. Birds and squirrels will enjoy the fresh juices from these fruits.
Garlands of dried fruit, plain popcorn and chunks of stale bread can be strung using fishing line or thread and draped on branches or placed on top of bushes. You can purchase inexpensive granola bars from a dollar store and then spread them with peanut butter, roll them in seeds or cornmeal, and put them in mesh bags or plastic bags with holes cut in them, These too can be hung from trees.
Suet treats provide the fat and calories birds need to survive the winter, and they love them. I only use a suet treat in the winter when it's very cold because warmer temperatures promote spoilage.
1 cup lard
1 cup peanut butter (regular or crunchy)
2 cups oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour.
-Melt the lard and peanut butter; stir in the oats. cornmeal, and flour.
-Now you can stir in any other ingredients such as dried fruits, cereal, seeds, or nuts.
-After mixing well, pack and fill whatever size plastic containers you want to use and freeze it well.
This recipe will make enough suet cakes to last a long time. When ready to use, take a container out of the freezer, remove the suet, place it in your suet cage and hang it where you can watch the birds feast on it. It is fun to watch all the different birds that love this kind of treat.
If you would like a rewarding hobby to do yourself or with your family over the winter months, consider making your own nutritious treats for the birds and squirrels in your neighborhood. You can make lasting memories of the fun times you have making the treats and you can also become a winter bird watcher.
Daves Gardens; Feeding Outdoor Animals During The Winter
By Mary Frucelli