For much of the Northeastern U.S., it felt like the winter that wouldn’t end. The days of frigid temperatures, icy roads, and piles of snow seemed endless. We longed for warm spring days, budding trees, and daffodils in bloom. But there are creatures who yearned for this even more than we did; our backyard birds.
During winter, we have a variety of birds. The most abundant are cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, and blue jays. It amazes me when I see them hopping on top of snow-drifts, their tiny little feet bare to the elements. They puff their feathers out, and draw their heads down, trying to keep warm. My husband and I find them amazing and fascinating, and we make sure they have plenty to eat to survive harsh temperatures.
Morning and evening, the feeders are filled with mixed seed. Buying cheap seed isn’t worth it, since birds are picky about what they like and don’t like. Identify your birds and do some research to find what seeds they eat. We also save and toast heels of bread to toss out near the feeders, since this is a favorite of the jays. A few years ago, we purchased two cage feeders with suet blocks, and all of the birds immediately flocked to them.
Suet is high in calories, which are necessary to sustain the birds’ health and energy during cold days. The blocks also contain a mixture of seeds and small pieces of corn, but the blocks that contain black oil sunflower seeds are best for their health. The oils are high in nutrition, the shells are easy to crack open, and all wild birds love them. Bird Seed, Birding Basics
We bought more blocks and saved the plastic molds they came in. After reading the ingredients, I felt sure we could save money and make our own. I looked online and read articles on making DIY suet blocks, and tried a few. Some turned out too soft, and some were too bland. Using the basic information, I concocted my own recipe. The first time we hung one in the cage, I knew I had it right. All of our birds were anxious to take a bite, and I knew we had to get the other cage hung to avoid flying feathers. The following is easy-to-do, and less expensive than buying the blocks. It makes four suet blocks for square cage feeders. Except for the seed, all ingredients are generic.
1. Put two cups of shortening and one-third cup of peanut butter in a pot. (I tried using lard instead of shortening, but it made the mixture too thin, and it didn’t harden as well) Heat on low until melted, stirring until combined.
2. Take from heat, and add one and three-fourths cups of corn meal, stirring until smooth.
3. Stir in two heaping cups of mixed bird seed, and one-half cup of black oil sunflower seeds.
4. This step is optional; I add one-quarter cup of raisins, a handful of shelled peanuts, and some dried cranberries. If we have left-over popcorn, that goes in, too.
Stir well. Mixture should be thin, but not runny. If this should happen, simply add a bit more corn, flour, or even bread crumbs until it thickens up to consistency of thick gravy.
Let set in pot for 15 minutes, then pour into the saved plastic molds. It takes approximately five hours to set completely. Leave blocks in molds, slip into small storage bags, and keep in freezer or refrigerator. I make these year-round as an occasional treat for our feathered friends.