Provide winter treats for the birds

(Newport News, Va.) Daily PressJanuary 11, 2013 

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. All feeders are caged or baffled to prevent rude raiders like 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. Mix mealworms in with seed to provide extra protein. Mealworms are available at wildlife and garden specialty centers and some big-box home improvement stores.

“With a little preparation and the right blend of food, water and shelter, you can fill your backyard with the bright colors and welcome song of birds all season – and give your feathered friends the help they need to thrive throughout the year,” said Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s wild bird products, sold nationwide, coleswildbird.com.

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 via 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. You can see a tutorial of this on the new mobile app TutoriALL, available for free download at app stores.

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.

“You really keep it simple when you use toppings of wild bird seed on medium-sized scoops of chunky peanut butter and place them outdoors on tree trunks and branches,” Cole said.

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 ribbon. A cardboard egg carton can be transformed into a feeder, according to the National Wildlife Federation – http://tinyurl.com/b9u8k6v.

“This suet feeder is fun for kids to make,” spokeswoman Mary Burnett said. “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. Stand back and watch the birds come!”

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