At our house, we feed the birds year round, but I am especially vigilant in keeping our feeders full during the winter, when wild birds' natural food supply is scarce. Because this month is often the most difficult month for wild birds to find food, February has been recognized as National Birdfeeding Month. This national event was created in 1994 to advance and publicize wild bird feeding and watching as a hobby. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water, and shelter to help wild birds survive.
In honor of national birdfeeding month, and because we love our feathered friends, we've repurposed our Christmas tree, propping it up on the back porch where we can see it from the kitchen and dining area, and decorating it with several kinds of home-made bird treats. Here is what we made and how we made it:
Any of these treats can be customized by adding dried fruits, like raisins, cranberries, or apples; or nuts, like unsalted peanuts or walnuts, to the mix. If you happen to have any bugs, dead or alive, to add, I'm sure the birds would appreciate those as well. To accommodate peanut allergies, depending on the treat, you can substitute vegetable shortening, honey, or other nut butters for the peanut butter; and I've heard that mixing cayenne pepper in with your bird seed will deter squirrels but doesn't affect the birds--just be careful not to breathe it or get it in your eyes, because it deters humans, too.
This really easy, no mess bird treat is great for keeping small hands occupied--and it helps develop fine motor skills, too. Just thread cheerios onto a length of string or yarn. I taped a toothpick to one end of the yarn to make it easier for 3 year old fingers to thread the cheerios. I tied the yarn through a cheerio on the other end to keep them from slipping off.
Bird Seed Cookies
This reminds me of Big Bird--we have a book in which Big Bird makes a batch of bird seed cookies: mmmm, yummy! So, just toast a piece of bread, and cut it into a heart or other shape using a cookie cutter. Spread peanut butter on both sides and press into bird seed. Poke a hole (we used a bendy straw, which we are never without, to poke our holes), and let dry. We accelerated the drying process by baking our cookies in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. When the cookies are dry and cool, put string or ribbon through the hole for hanging.
Bird Seed Muffins
Mix 2 egg whites with 1 cup of birdseed--we added a bit of honey, maybe 1 tablespoon, as well, plus the mixture seemed too liquidy so we ended up adding more seed...I'm not sure how much more, because I had preschoolers doing the measuring and they are more in the category of cooks who eyeball ingredient amounts, rather than using precise measures, but just use your judgement. The person who gave me this recipe said to pack the mixture into terra cotta pots, with a loop of ribbon hanging out the drainage hole in the bottom for a hanger, so they'd come out looking like bells, but I didn't have any pots I could devote to this purpose so I just glopped the mixture into a greased muffin tin. I rolled small pieces of aluminum foil around the base of a marker and stuck them in the middle of each muffin in hopes that I'd end up with a hole to put the ribbon through. Then I baked them at 325 degrees. I intended to bake them for 15 minutes and then check to see how they were doing, but someone forgot to set a timer, so I really have no idea how long they baked. Then I removed them from the pan, poked the same marker back through the aluminum tubes to open up the hole and remove the foil, and threaded a piece of shiny pink ribbon through for hanging.
Any kid who ever went to camp has probably done this one--tie a length of string to a pine cone for hanging, spread peanut butter on the cone, and roll in birdseed. We did a little bit of a variation on this by drizzling honey on the pine cone instead of using peanut butter.
Vegan Birdseed Balls
A couple of years ago, I made homemade bird suet using lard, and I still remember that yucky stink, so when planning our bird treat tree I decided to try this vegan "suet" treat. Melt together 1 c. vegetable shortening and 1 c. peanut butter (natural varieties are best for the birds). Then stir in 3 c. cornmeal and 1/2 c. flour. Allow to cool--we put ours in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Roll the mixture into balls (I shaped mine around knotted pieces of ribbon so I'd have a hanger), and roll the balls in birdseed. Freeze until firm. If you're not going to use all of yours right away, these can be stored in the freezer.
In addition to the bird treats on our tree, we also provided some nesting material. I've seen people put nesting material in the net bags that oranges or onions from the grocery store come in, but we decided to forgo the bag and just hang yarn, strips of fabric, and ribbons directly on the tree. I'm excited to see if any bits of color show up in nests around here this spring.
On Monday, hopefully we'll get around to making some binoculars out of (you guessed it!) toilet paper tubes, and then we'll be all set to watch our feathered friends enjoy their delicious treats!