Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Attracting Birds (and Keeping Them Happy)

It’s feeder filling time. How do I know? A couple of chickadees and a titmouse appeared at my feeder station to remind me. They were looking right at me through my kitchen window, chiding me, “Where’s my breakfast already? It’s November! Get a clue!”  (My little nieces and nephew who visited this past weekend wondered at the fact that I call them “my birds.” )
Mother Nature does need help – especially when there’s snow on the ground and food is harder to find. Aside from filling up your birdfeeders, here’s a list of some other things you can do to be nice to birds.

1) Make some homemade suet. Melt 2 cups of lard (get it from your butcher!) and 1 cup of peanut butter together, then add 2 cups of corn meal and cool. Choose your own add-ins. Try seeds, raisins, cereal or oats. What do your birds like best? You can serve it in an hanging cage (above), or spread it on dead sunflower heads.

2) Birds need to drink water every day, and that can be a challenge in the winter when the lakes and ponds begin to freeze. If you don’t want to invest in one of those expensive heated birdbaths, there are other ways to keep your water from freezing, although it’s probably not a 24 hour solution. During the morning hours when birds are feeding heavily, you can set up a watering station, too. Take a large coffee can and take off both ends with a can opener. Punch a few holes in the can a few inches from the top end. Place the can on a sturdy, flameproof level surface and place a pillar candle inside the can. Light the candle and place a metal dish or pie pan full of water on top. If you do this a few hours every day, you can make sure that your birds get a drink.

3) If you have a real Christmas tree, and little foliage or evergreens on your property, put your tree near your feeders when you take it down in January. The birds will have a place to hide and shelter themselves from the winter wind.

4) Tape some snowflakes or other opaque décor to the inside of your larger windows to prevent the birds from flying into them.

5) Drive a long (3” or longer) nail at least an inch into an old tree stump. Cut the top off with a bolt cutter. Stick your old corncobs on the nail- this is a real treat for chickens, too.

6) Stop using insecticide. Birds feed on insects, so using insecticides like Neem on your property can severely affect their food supply.  One type, neocontinoids, could be particularly toxic to pollinators.  Weedkillers like Round-Up and other herbicides can be dangerous too.

7) Give a bird a shower - cut the bottom off a 1 liter soda bottle. Push a pin through the bottle cap to create a tiny hole. Screw the cap onto the bottle and turn the bottle upside down. Create a hanger for the bottle by punching holes on two sides of the bottle and stringing a wire through the holes. Fill the bottle with water and hang it from a shepherd’s hook over your birdbath. The water will drip from the pierced bottle cap into the bath, giving the birds a little splash. In cold weather, water that’s moving is also slower to freeze.

8) Plant berry bushes. Spicebush (Lindera benzion) Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) are a few that are native to the Northeast. Or maybe some fruit. Try putting out sliced grapes, kiwi, cranberries, apples, and oranges. Do any new birds show up?

9) Hang a house.  At, you can search by species name for the kind of house preferred by that type of bird.  Some birds, such as the mourning dove, prefer nesting on a platform.

10) Baby birds are on the way. In late winter and early spring when the birds are making their nests, fill an old suet cage (see top photo) with coir, string, hair, and hay. Birds will use these materials to create their nests.

What else can we do to be nice to birds? Please add your suggestions in the comment section!


Joanne said...

I like your water suggestions. It's something we don't often think of, that supplying water is as important, if not more so, as the food. We have a couple of birdhouses hanging in the hemlocks, and it's always fun to watch the birds' busy-ness.

TALON said...

What an awesome post, JGH. Your birds are very very lucky!

tina said...

I like your suet recipe. I plan to make some one of these days as the birds here so love it.

Patti Lacy said...

You make such a haven...for flora and fauna alike!

Bangchik said...

interesting suggestions to attract birds. i may try out a few.... ~bangchik

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Thank you for the many tips. I have been thinking about having a bird feeder or house for months now but can't start the project yet. It will be in my must do list 2011.

Sophie said...

Great idea to leave the Christmas tree up fact, my Christmas tree is still on the deck and I'm going to finally have to give it up so I can have the base for this year. But you are so right about the birds loving it. I had a female cardinal all last winter waiting for the other birds to drop the sunflower seeds.

Anonymous said...

Dennis likes to watch birds. Dennis thinks you are a genius, these ideas are great, Dennis had a heated birdbath and it was great while it lasted --5 yrs.

Stone Art said...

Having some bird feeders outside your kitchen window, is far more entertaining than having the television on. (and cheaper to)

LazyMom said...


I want to see that candle heated bird water feeder. Do you have photo? I wonder if it will work for chickens.

Stone Art said...

those birdhouses are cool

JGH said...

Joanne, water is hard to stay on top of in the winter, but you're right, it's so important!

Talon, thanks- I hope they realize that and keep visiting

Tina- I'm making suet for the first time!

Thanks, Patti!

Hi Bangchik - thanks for visiting. I'd be interested in knowing what you do in the warmer climate. For me, birdfeeding is more of a winter activity.

Malay-Kazadan - you definitely should! Very entertaining.

Sophie - that's where I had mine last year. I finally dragged it out to the curb during spring cleanup.

Dennis, just don't get too close ;)

Stone Art, I do find myself watching the feeders when I should be doing other things. Just like television.

LazyMom - I saw this in "Birds and Blooms" magazine (VC Library has it) - I'm going to make it but with a heavy tray feeder I have on top of the coffee can- one thing I worry about is the weight of the pie plate not being enough to support a bird.