For the Birds

Although winter has come and my perennial beds are now asleep, there is no quietness in my yard.  The birds are everywhere.  Their flits and darts create a layer of constant movement above the brown, crisp stillness of my dormant garden.

I regularly see flickers and nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, juncos, and seemingly hundreds of nondescript (although humorously named) bush tits, to name a few.  All are hungry now that the seeds and berries on my plants are nearly gone.  To keep everyone around, we've begun supplementing with sunflower seed, suet, and nectar.  As you might expect, we're quite popular in avian circles.

I'm making nectar again this morning for the noisy and persistent pair of Anna's hummingbirds living somewhere in the yard.  They drained an entire feeder of nectar in the last 10 days.  Chatter aside, they are both really beautiful and inquisitive.  I especially love seeing the male's flash of hot pink when he sits and looks in the window.  Quite tricky to photograph, however.

If you want to help out the hummingbird population in the Northwest (Anna's don't migrate), whip up a batch.

Hummingbird Nectar

Ratio 1 part sugar to 4 parts water

Boil the water in a medium saucepan, then add the sugar.  Simmer until sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and let cool completely before filling the feeder. 

  • Don't add food coloring, honey (it ferments), or artificial sweetener, which has no nutritional value.
  • Clean your feeder regularly.  The National Audubon Society recommends cleaning by rinsing with one part white vinegar to four parts water.  If the feeder has grunge inside, add a few grains of dry rice to the vinegar solution to help scrib it clean.  Follow the vinegar wash by rinsing three times with clear, warm water before filling with the nectar.

Another way we feed the birds is to provide suet/seed mixtures.  Making your own is easier than you think.  Last winter, I made suet based ornaments for the trees in the yard.  Although it's a bit messy (or maybe because it's a bit messy) it's a fun activity to do with children.  Here's the how tos:

Birdseed-Suet Ornaments
1 cup peanut butter (birds prefer chunky)
3 cups suet (ask the meat department at your local grocery store for it)
2-3 cups mixed birdseed (black sunflower seeds, cracked seeds, and millet are good choices in the Northwest)
1 cup of roughly chopped fresh cranberries
1 cup cornmeal 
Several lengths of natural twine, tied in a loop with a knot at the joined end.

In a large bowl and using your hands, mix together the peanut butter and suet.  You can microwave both a bit to make it softer and easier to mush together, but don't completely melt them.  Then mix in your seed and cornmeal.

Shape the mixture into egg-shaped balls, placing the twine down the center (with the knot on the bottom and loop above).  Let the balls harden in a cool place (outside is good but watch out for little creatures who eat them before you can hang them up -- see below).


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