In some parts of the country, the mast – or nuts and fruits produced in the wild – is at a 40-year low. This means a lot of wild birds will be very hungry this winter. You can help feed them, save money (commercial bird food is expensive) and decrease waste by using your kitchen scraps this winter.
* What You’ll Need
You will need something to bind your table scraps together into a cake. The best thing to use is some kind of solid fat. Birds enjoy suet or lard – don’t use vegetable fat. You can save the fat you generate in your kitchen from cooking meat – pan drippings, bacon fat, etc. The high fat content helps birds stay warm. The ideal ratio is 1/3 fat to 2/3 table scraps. (Wild birds don’t need to watch their waistlines!)
Try using an old yogurt, cottage cheese, or sour cream container. You will need something light, durable and flexible.
-Miscellaneous table scraps
You can use fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cornmeal, oatmeal, bread, etc. – cooked or raw. (more ideas below)
The basic method is the same regardless of the scraps you use.
1. Punch a hole in the bottom of the yogurt (or whatever) container.
2. Thread a string through the hole, pulling it up and out of the top of the container. Tie a knot at the base to keep the string from slipping through. You will need a few inches of string above the rim of the container.
3. Soften the fat by melting in a saucepan or microwaving it. Then, stir in your scraps – chop them into small bits if necessary. You can use a blender if you like.
4. Pour the fat-and-scrap mixture into the container, holding the string so that it is roughly in the center of the mixture.
5. Refrigerate the fat or leave it to cool at room temperature. Leaving it overnight on a countertop on a cold winter’s night should do the trick.
6. Invert the container and remove the now solid fat mixture. Voila, you have a bird cake on a string! Hang it outside near a branch using the excess string and observe.
If you want to attract tree-clingers such as wrens and nuthatches, you can smear the mixture right into the bark of a tree.
* More Ideas for Bird Cake Mixtures
Here are some suggestions for bird cakes that you can try. You can also combine the various ingredients in these recipes to attract a wider variety of birds, and to use the scraps you have on hand.
To the fat, add leftover raisins, cranberries, cranberry sauce, holiday mincemeat, apple pie, chopped apple or pear cores and peels (seeds removed), etc.
Stir in chopped nuts of any variety – sunflower seeds and peanuts are especially popular.
This is a good way to use leftover stale bread. Crumble it into the fat mixture.
Mix in leftover oatmeal, cooked rice, cornbread, cornmeal, pancakes, etc. into the fat. Millet, cooked or raw, is a healthy-for-humans grain that is popular with birds. Try mixing in pasta, too.
Add leftover cheese to your fat mixture, grated or chopped, any hard variety.
This is a good way to use leftover salad, broccoli, spinach, and so forth. Chop it up and stir it in!