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Gardening: Make your own winter bird feed

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When a polar vortex arrives bringing ice and snow, I get concerned about how the birds in my backyard are faring.

In his editor’s note in the current issue of Watching Backyard Birds magazine (watchingbackyardbirds.com), Bill Thompson III recommends building a brush pile for winter protection and scattering mixed seed and cracked corn on the ground the perimeter of the yard so shy birds have a chance to feed. He also recycles Christmas trees into his backyard for added protection.

Pine cones coated in peanut butter, rolled in birdseed and hung on evergreen branches will attract lots of winged friends. Thompson also recommends laying a piece of plywood on a couple of cinder blocks as a platform feeder for ground feeders that don’t use bird feeders. When the level of snow rises, just add a couple more bricks.

Suet, peanut butter or a mix of the two makes a hardy meal for birds in the bitter cold. A metal cage filled with pre-formed cakes containing suet and birdseed is inexpensive and readily available at big boxes, wild bird stores and garden centers.

DIYers can make their own suet feeders by drilling large holes in a log, stuffing them with suet and/or peanut butter, adding a metal eye or two at the top strung with a wire ring and hanging it from a branch of a tree or a shepherd’s hook. A great project to do with kids.

Wild bird artist, author and contributor to Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher’s Digest, Julie Zickefoose (juliezickefoose.blogspot.com) has developed a winter recipe that keeps bluebirds and other winter birds flocking to her feeder all winter. What makes her recipe different is the addition of unmedicated chick feed to increase the calcium and other nutrients birds need to stay healthy. Antibiotic-free chick starter is available at feed stores, such as Uncle Luke’s Feed Store in Troy and Flushing.

This recipe makes a crumbly product that is used on platform feeders.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.

New Zick Dough:

Small Batch

Melt in the microwave and stir together:

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup lard

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

2 cups unmedicated chick starter

2 cups quick oats

1 cup yellow cornmeal and

1 cup flour

Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well.

Note: If you decide to stick to birdseed, check out Uncle Luke’s web site for a list of recommended seed types for selected birds (unclelukes.com). Not all birds like the same seed.