The birds at our house thrive on a gourmet diet — pretty much year-round.
There’s a meal worm feeder for bluebirds, nut feeder for woodpeckers, thistle feeder for finches, safflower feeder for cardinals and black-oil sunflower-seed feeder for everyone.
Overripe blueberries, chopped apples, orange wedges and banana slices are placed in a fly-through feeder, and nut- and fruit-enhanced suet goes out when the temperatures drop into the 30s and below. All feeders are caged or baffled to prevent rude raiders such as squirrels and raccoons.
This time of year, the birds depend on the feeders, because most natural seeds, berries and insects are gone.
Mealworms, which used to be icky to handle and keep because they were alive, now come in easy-use, freeze-dried form. You can mix them in with seed to provide extra protein. The birds still prefer live mealworms, says Nick Clausen of the Backyard Nature Center in Wichita, and his store carries a little cup that keeps the worms from freezing in the winter – as well as the live and freeze-dried worms.
For extras during winter, create decorative edibles for the birds. Large pine cones can be smothered in peanut butter, rolled in birdseed and then hung from twine on evergreens at the edge of your deck or yard. Suet mixed with raisins and seed can be stuffed into pine cones and hung.
Stale bread and bagel halves can be done the same way. Toast the bread, smear on peanut butter, spoon on birdseed and add a ribbon, yarn or twine hanger.
Cookie cutters can be used to make special shapes such as hearts, stars and such.
Or, smear an empty toilet paper roll with peanut butter, roll it in birdseed and slip it onto a tree branch for birds to enjoy.
Suet bags for birds can be made from pieces of suet from the butcher; slip them into a red mesh onion bag, or place a suet cake in the bag and hang with red ribbon. A cardboard egg carton can be transformed into a feeder, according to the National Wildlife Federation — nwf.org/Kids/Family-Fun/crafts/homemade-suet-feeder.aspx.
“This suet feeder is fun for kids to make,” says federation spokeswoman Mary Burnett.
If you didn’t want to go with an egg carton, you can probably just make a big ball of the suet, tie a string around it and hang in your backyard.
I’ve also seen homemade suet feeders where they stuff the suet into a half of a hollowed-out orange or grapefruit skin. Put a hole in it and hang with string in your backyard.
One of the most important things to put out now is water, Clausen said. The birds need it for drinking and for bathing. “More birds die of dehydration than starvation.” A brush pile in the corner of the yard also provides needed cover.
Contributing: Annie Calovich of The Eagle.