Good morning, friends! This morning in Illinois, it’s a balmy 30 degrees outside. I am used to working outside, so to me, this is t-shirt and shorts weather. I ran outside to go feed a few stray cats that come over each morning and stood on the porch in my t-shirt and relished in the thought that spring will be here soon…I hope. Well, within 15 minutes of putting out two bowls of Purina cat chow, the starlings and grackles found the bowls and were freaking out and fighting over the food. Apparently their suet feeder was empty again (the other one is still MIA; apparently a raccoon decided to make a five-finger discount and run off with the whole darn suet cage.) Anyway, I buy the cages at the dollar store and make my own suet so it’s not a big deal. This past Christmas, my son, YumYum, hubby and I also made pine cone bird feeders for our feathered friends. Today’s post will give you directions about how to feed your friends, which gives the family some free entertainment and lots of laughs, as well as it can be educational, as you try and identify all the birds that arrive at your feeding station.
DIY suet for birds
about a gallon of grease, lard, Crisco, etc. I usually save all the grease from the year from my cooking. I let it cool down in the pan after I remove the main parts of my food (little stuck-on bits of food are fine, since it will all be going into a freezer.) After your grease from making hamburgers, bacon, grease from chicken soup, making pot roast etc cools, I use a spatula and scrape it all into an old plastic peanut butter container. If you have an old Crisco container, or an old coffee container, that will work fine as well. Throughout the year, as you cook, just scrape the cooled grease into the container. Keep it in the freezer, so it doesn’t spoil. If you don’t have an excess of grease, then just use Crisco.
about a cup of cornmeal
optional: a few tablespoons of peanut butter
stale peanuts or sunflower seeds
leftover crumbs of cereal (you know the crumbs at the bottom of the Trix, corn flakes, Rice Krispies, etc bags as well as any loose cereal rolling around between the box and the bag.
A few cups of bird seed (doesn’t need to be high quality bird seed, just ensure it is pesticide free. (Not all bird seeds are pesticide-free; Scotts Miracle-Gro was fined $12.5 million for illegally applying insecticides to its bird seed. The insecticides are toxic to birds. http://www.audubonmagazine.org/articles/blog/pesticides-bird-seed-scotts-miracle-gro-fined-125-million.) I use Wagoner’s Four Season Wild Bird Food. It can be ordered from Amazon $11.98 for a 20 pound bag, and if you are an Amazon Prime member, shipping is free. However, you can use any kind you want, I just ask that you skip the seed you find at the dollar store. They are full of red millet, which is a throw-away seed for many birds and probably treated with an insecticide to prevent boll weevils during storage.
Any leftover cooked vegetables or even thawed frozen veggies (have any peas or corn that is freezer burned? Leftover macaroni or spaghetti that was found in the back of the fridge and you’re not sure how long it’s been there? As long as there is no mold on the food. So as you find leftover cooked rice, baked potatoes, dried out pieces of hard cheese, like Swiss, muenster, Colby, etc. Do not use soft cheese such as cream cheese or brie.) Chop the veggies, or pasta up into small pieces. If it has sauce, such as Alfredo or tomato sauce, rinse them them off, before chopping up the pasta or veggies.
optional: Washed and crushed eggshells (yes, this sounds weird, but any eggs that I use, I will smash the eggshells up in a strainer with small holes and rinse the eggshells off. Do not use soap!! Just rinse with warm water and mash the shells up with your hands. After they are washed, spread them out on a cookie sheet and put into a warmed oven (heat the oven to 200 deg for about 5 minutes, then turn off the oven. Put the eggshells in the warmed oven, and let them dry for about 12 hours. If you don’t have time to dry them, then that’s fine also. The eggshells add much-needed calcium to the birds for strong eggs. In the springtime, I grind up all my eggshells and toss them into the garden. Not only will the birds eat them, they are a natural deterrent to slugs and snails, because the eggshells have sharp edges, which will cut open the soft gastropods’ bodies and they will dry out.
about a cup of plain uncooked oatmeal; rolled oats or steel oats are fine. Cooked oatmeal will also work. I often scrape the bits leftover from my kids’ oatmeal bowl into my grease can and re-freeze it.
optional: dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, Craisins, dried apple pieces, etc. I often take the apple cores from apples I cut up for me kids, chop them up, seeds and all and toss them into the freezer in small baggies or add directly to my container of grease.
optional: about 4 T or more of cayenne pepper or hot pepper flakes (birds are not bothered by the cayenne pepper or chili powder flakes, as long as it is actually mixed up in the suet and not sprinkled on top of bird seed. The cayenne pepper is to deter squirrels and other rodents. If you don’t mind tossing the crazy antics of squirrels, you don’t need to add the cayenne.)
First, heat a large pot of water to almost boiling. This is to heat the grease up slightly by placing the container it was stored in, into the large pot of very hot water. Do not put the pot of hot water with the grease container on the stove. Let the grease melt until it is almost a slurry. You don’t need it to be completely melted…just until it is the consistency of peanut butter. Scrape the grease out and put it into a large bowl. Add the peanut butter and stir to mix. Add the cayenne pepper and mix thoroughly. Then add the birdseed, rolled oats, peanuts or sunflower seeds, dried fruit and crushed egg shells. If the temperature outside for the next several days will be below freezing, you can add the mixed, thawed veggies, rice or pasta. Once it is all mixed up, scrape the suet mixture into a cookie tin or even an ice cube tray. I prefer using a silicone muffin tray, since it’s easier for me to pull my suet muffins out. Put the suet muffins into the freezer for at least 12 hours. After frozen, remove your suet muffins and add to your suet cage. If you don’t have a suet cage, you can smear the soft mixture onto pine cones which you have already tied a long piece of yarn to, then pile the suet-smeared pine cones into a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. I do the pine cones in the winter, when snow is expected. I put the filled bucket, with the lid on tightly and store outside on my porch. After the snow stops, I will remove the lid and tie the pine cones up in the trees for the birds. If you don’t have cages or pine cones, you can also save the netting to the bags of potatoes or onions. Cut the top of the net bag and remove your produce. Find a container that will fit the open net bag. Put the net bag inside the container and open it up. Take the top part and wrap it around the top of the container, using a rubber band to secure it.
Ensure the container has a wide-mouth at the top, so it’s easy to remove. Then lay the container on it’s side, so the net bag is laying against the container and scrape some of your suet into the bag. Do not overfill it. After a few spoonfuls, you may need to put the net bag into the freezer to stiffen the mixture up some. Add more grease until the bag is full, re-freezing it as needed, so the suet doesn’t dribble through the net bag. Tie off the top and hang outside on a strong branch. The birds will love you for this; it’s cheap (since you are using basically leftovers and stuff normally thrown into the garbage, with exception of buying the birdseed, it’s practically free) and you are helping others who are are also struggling to feed themselves.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it actually goes together pretty fast. Most of the time is actually hands-off, because it is in the freezer. Do not make this when the temperatures are expected to be over 45 degrees, since the suet will melt and possible go rancid. Don’t make more than can be consumed in about four or five days, unless the temps remain below freezing or you keep extra in your freezer. This is a nice rainy-day or snow day project for you and your kids to do. I try to keep my old Crisco containers (they don’t even need to be washed free of the grease, since you are only adding more, and as the family uses up cereal, or I find one tablespoon of food saved in the refrigerator which I find and question when it was put put in the fridge, I add it to the Crisco container in the freezer. The items don’t even to be added separately. If you add bits and pieces through out the year, you can just thaw it out in the double boiler method until it is a slurry and just spoon it directly into your muffin tins and re-freeze. If you use metal tins, to easily remove your suet muffins, take the frozen tin and submerge the bottom part into a pan of hot water. Do not get the tops wet. Just heat the tin part until the suet muffins or suet cubes (if using an old ice cube tray) until they are easy to remove.
Remember to do a good deed for another today. A simple gesture like telling a military person, “Thank you for serving,” regardless if you believe in the war or not. Dropping your spare change into a collection container for stray animals at the gas station. Collecting old blankets or towels and dropping them off at a local animal shelter. Even stopping at the dollar store and purchasing two or three cans of wet cat food and leaving them at the adoption desk that PetSmart and PetCo. have every weekend. There are always others that have it worse than you. By doing a little something to brighten up another’s day, you make this world a happier place. Even go the the dollar store and buy a bottle of shampoo or a few bars of soap and leave them at your local food pantry. Have some soap a relative gave you at Christmas or birthday that you don’t like the scent of? If they are unopened, drop them off at the food pantry. Even if you don’t like it, someone else may love it. We all need a helping hand and it gives us such a good feeling knowing we are helping another person, feathered or furry critter a helping hand. Have you made someone smile today?