Winter can be a death sentence for wildlife when there is no food available. Winter is especially hard on birds when food sources like seeds and bugs are covered in snow. You can help by adding a bird feeder with seed or suet to your yard, recipe below. According to the National Audubon Society, birds are in drastic need of our support in many ways.
“Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of forty years of bird population data from Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey reveals alarming declines for many of our most common and beloved birds. Since 1967 the average population for the common birds in steepest decline has fallen 68 percent, from 17.6 million to 5.35 million. Some species have nose-dived as much as 80 percent, and all 20 birds included in the Common Birds in Decline report have lost at least 50 percent of their population – in just four decades.” http://birds.audubon.org/state-birds
As much as 25% of the birds in USA could be in danger of extinction without our help. Of course, there are many reasons this is happening to our treasured birds: coastal development, industrialized farming practices, pollution, energy development and suburban sprawl are eliminating and degrading the places many of these species need to feed, rest and breed. Here is the latest Watch List created by the Audubon Society.
Hopefully, at this point, you are probably asking what you can do to help. One way is to begin thinking about how your own yard, patio or balcony can help support our treasured bird populations. The best resource for how to make your home and yard bird friendly is to go to the National Wildlife Federations website and review what it takes to be added to the list of 175,047 Wildlife Certified Habitats. Our yard is Wildlife Certified…we did this at our home years ago and continue to upgrade our bird and wildlife habitat each year. Our yard is not large and yours doesn’t need to be either. Provide food, shelter, plants, water and a place to raise young and you are on your way to a fascinating new hobby while enjoying the multitude of new visitors that only increase over the years. Once they know you will consistently supplement their needs and provide an oasis for them, they will return year after year. Don’t give up if birds don’t find you right away. Be consistent with supplying food and they WILL find you.
We keep a list of all the bird species that have visited our yard. Each year we are excited to add new birds to our list. We are well above 30 different bird species to date. Like everyone who enjoys birds, bird watching and wildlife, we have our favorites: Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Shafted Northern Flickers, Chickadees, hummingbirds and our newest daily visitors…a pair of Red-Breasted Nuthatches. A special visitor, a Say’s Phoebe, has visited us each year for the last 6 years and raised babies under our front porch roof in a platform nest box. We originally thought placing the platform nest box there would welcome a nesting Robin. You can’t imagine the pleasure of watching the entire process of male and female Say’s Phoebes building the nest, days of sitting on the nest, hatching 2-5 babies, and the pair catching bugs in mid-air and bringing them to the little ones. Once they are big enough, the flying lessons begin. We watch in awe from our front window each year.
Today, I made a batch of my Bird Magnet Suet (recipe below). It attracts many birds, especially those that are insect eaters. In the winter in Colorado and in other northern states, there are few insects available in winter. Suet fills a real life sustaining need for woodpeckers, chickadees, robins and others. Yes, I said robins. The robins are fun to watch when they fly up to the suet and while in mid-air they peck a mouthful of suet and glide back to the ground to swallow it. I will try to catch a video of this in one of my upcoming blog posts.
A word about the ingredients before reading further. I do NOT recommend that you eat lard or commercial brands of peanut butter. Lard is animal fat which is perfect for bug eating birds. Commercial peanut butter has added ingredients you may not want to eat or are simply bad for your health: sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed).Go to a health food store and grind your own peanuts.
Bird Magnet Suet
1 cup of lard/
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar or honey
Melt the above in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Then, stir in:
2 cups quick-cooking oats or oat flour (I prefer the oat flour)
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour or other flour
Pour into containers and refrigerate or chill until you can roll into logs for inserting in log suet feeders. Once it cools, you can also simply smear it onto a tree trunk. In the summer, a little extra white flour keeps it from melting in the sun.
Optional ingredients: dried fruit, nuts, seeds, meal worms, or crushed eggshells in the spring. Meal worms and crushed eggshells are excellent sources of protein and calcium which birds especially need in spring for their eggs and babies. One word of caution, if you have a dog, raisins can be dropped from the feeder and are poisonous for dogs.
It is well worth the time to make your own bird suet. From our experience, the birds prefer it. We have had to throw away commercial brands that the birds would not touch. If you don’t wish to make your own bird suet, you can purchase commercial bird suet from a local wild bird store or even at some grocery or hardware stores. These stores also have bird suet feeders available for purchase. One word of caution, once you enter a wild bird store you will be hooked.
My multi-talented husband made suet log feeders as gifts to other bird-loving friends. We will be needing another for our own yard soon. The two we have been using for almost 5 years now, are showing signs of wear from a few hungry squirrels who have widened the openings a bit with their chewing. The logs are easy enough to make if you keep in mind a few hints. The logs need to be about 3-4″ in diameter and at least the length of an adult woodpecker, maybe 12 inches or more. When you drill the holes with a circular drill bit, 1 1/4 inch or larger in diameter, drill from one side of the log half way and then drill the other half of the hole from the opposite side. This prevents the wood from splitting. Drill additional holes a few inches apart and perpendicular to each other. Insert an eyelet wood screw in one end of the log, fill with suet and hang it, preferably on or near a tree.
It is our hope that you will join us in supporting the needs of wildlife and saving them for future generations. If you have questions about anything we have posted here, let us know. We do our best to answer all questions from visitors.