Winter is officially here, and we may be facing quite a few snow days if NoVA Weather Junkie’s predictions are accurate.
This means more time inside with kids, and feeding birds is a fun, educational winter activity.
For many birds a general seed blend may not be enough. Birds also eat dried berries, dried meal worms, thistle seeds, sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, whole oats and plain peanuts. Get your kids researching birds in this region and what they eat.
Adult supervision is advised for the following activities as there will be cutting and using a stove.
Take a toilet paper or paper towel tube and punch two holes opposite each other about 1 inch from the top. Run 6 -8 inches of twine through the holes and tie to make a hanger. Spread peanut butter or sunflower butter on the tube and roll in bird seed. You can also do this with large pinecones. This is a very easy thing for little kids to do.
They can make a platform feeder using a low-sided tray like what frozen macaroni and cheese comes in or the trays for under flower pots. Punch holes in the corners of the tray or four holes around the sides of a flower pot tray. Measure enough twine to go from each hole to about 8 – 12 inches above the center of the tray plus extra to tie to the tray, and knot all four pieces at the top to make a hanger.
Following are some ideas for making suet and seed cakes. Start with the base.
*Suet base: Cut the suet into cubes or shred it so it will melt faster. Over low heat, melt completely and allow to cool until it begins to thicken. The melted suet will still be hot. Do not melt suet in a microwave.
*Gelatin base: Four packages of Knox unflavored gelatin to 1 cup simmering water.
To the above bases add any of the following (you can mix several together): bird seed blend, plain peanuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, thistle seeds, dried mealworms, safflower seeds, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, millet, whole oats, etc.
Pour into a loaf pan or muffin tins to about 1 inch deep. Chill overnight and put into suet hangers (you will have to cut the loaf to fit) or on platform feeders.
To make bird-seed rings you will need a Bundt cake pan or a mold ring. You can make smaller ones using the mini-cake donut pans. If you do not have any of these, you can make it work with a cake pan and paper towel tube or piece of 2-inch PVC pipe, muffin tins and ½ – inch wood dowels. You need to be able to create a ring you can hang.
Add 1 package of unflavored gelatin, ½ cup of warm water, 3 tablespoons of light corn syrup, ¾ cup of cornmeal, 4 cups of birdseed (or enough of any of the items listed above with the platform feeder). Coat the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the gelatin, corn syrup and warm water. Add the cornmeal and make a paste. Mix in the bird seed. Firmly press into the mold and then let dry for 48 hours or longer.
There are many other great ideas for making bird feeders and seed cakes for wild birds. Spend time with your children doing something creative that will help birds through what could be a harsh winter.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.