Now that we’re into December its time to start thinking about giving the birds a helping hand. This may sound a little bit melodramatic, but it can be a matter of life and death for small garden birds if they don’t get a feed at the right time. When they roost for the night they shiver to keep themselves warm, this uses a lot of energy. It is vital that they get a feed first thing in the morning and last thing at night. If they miss either of these feeds they could die. Its also important that you do not clean or fill your bird feeders at either of these times or they could miss this vital feed.
Myth – Birds will become dependent on you if you feed them. This is not true, birds are not stupid! They only look for secondary/supplementary food sources when they really need them. For example 2 autumns ago I noticed I wasn’t getting the same amount of visitors to my feeders, and I was very puzzled. I checked with an RSPB colleague (I am a volunteer) and found out that autumn there was an abundance of naturally occurring food sources e.g. berries and fruit so they didn’t need as much help from my feeders.
Having said that if you do start putting out bird feeders it is important to fill them regularly. If birds find a food source they will make a special journey there and fly all the way to your garden. If there is nothing there not only is it a wasted journey, but they have used up a lot of energy flying there. Also when it is really cold with frost and snow they cannot get, worms, insects or water so they really need a little help. Here is a way to make some Bird Seed Cake which is a high energy food.
1. Ingredients – I use Sunflower seed, sultanas (or mixed dried fruit), peanuts and Crisp & Dry which is vegetable lard. You can use animal lard (also called suet or shortening) which is probably a lot cheaper. I only use this because I am vegetarian and I don’t like handling animal lard – the birds don’t mind either veggie or animal lard and they have the same energy value.
2. You need to melt the lard, you can do this in a microwave or else put it into another bowl of bowling water. 500g (about 1lb) should make enough for approximately 6 squares.
3. I melt it to a thick creamy consistency a bit like custard. If you melt it until it goes clear its harder to judge if you have enough seed etc in the mix.
4. Add the dried fruit and sunflower hearts. You can use any seed mix instead of sunflower hearts, but when I’ve used the cheaper mixes the birds just throw loads of it on the ground especially hard pieces of maize etc. Sunflower hearts are more expensive but there is less waste and they are high energy.
5. Mix it all up.
6. Add the peanuts. I give them a whizz in a hand blender so they mix in well with the fat. You can buy peanuts already chopped in some pet shops (Pets At Home).
7. You need to smooth the mixture with the back of a large spoon or spatula to see if you have enough seeds etc. If you still see lots of white you can add some more seed.
8. Add more sunflower hearts.
9. Check again to see if there is enough seed and lard. There should be enough lard so it holds the mix together and will not fall apart.
10. Divide the mix equally into containers. I use old plastic containers from chinese takeaways. You could use a large baking tray and then divide it up in to squares later.
11. I shape it into a square because I have a square type wire cage to hold the fat blocks.
12. Seed cakes in the container. If you want to put a seed cake out straight away put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes it should go solid really quickly, alternatively you can just put it in the fridge.
All done and ready to be stored in the fridge
Seed cake hanging in the tree and ready to eat!
This is my neighbour’s apple tree it overhangs my garden, he very kindly allows me to hang all my feeders in his tree. I also have a little ceramic water bath. Here is some good advice on What to Feed Garden Birds from the RSPB, and also some general Hygiene Tips for bird feeders, and finally an Easy Way to Make Bird Cake for children (or adults!).