In light of their recent report on dwindling habitats, the National Audubon Society has urged us to provide space and food for our avian friends. This month I tried some recipes for suet cakes. I know you can buy these from hardware and home improvement stores, but I wanted to make a gift from me to the birds.
The first wasn’t exactly a recipe, but ingredients someone told me to use. Maybe I didn’t hear right – I thought it included Crisco, which I had on hand. The birds didn’t care much for it. Squirrels did, though, and had no trouble polishing off the hydrogenated treats.
Then I did what I should have done in the first place, a little reading, at http://www.allaboutbirds.org, I was reminded that suet, an energy food, is animal fat, not vegetable fat. I hadn’t had lard in my cupboard for quite some time so I went to the grocery store and picked up a tub (maybe I’ll make a few pie crusts).
Woodpeckers, chickadees, creepers and wrens like suet. When temperatures rise, however, it can cause problems for them: Soft suet can coat belly feathers of mother birds and prevent growth of embryos in their eggs. Also, when the outside temperature grows still warmer, the fat turns rancid.
So I made two different mixtures using lard.
- one cup lard
- one-half cup peanut butter
- three cups cornmeal (yellow is preferable, but I had white)
- one cup lard
- one cup peanut butter
- one-fourth cup sugar
- one cup flour
- one cup oatmeal
- one cup chopped peanuts
- one cup sunflower seeds or wild bird seed
I melted the lard and peanut butter together for each batch, then added the rest. Among the many recipes I read, the rule of thumb seemed to be one part melted fat/peanut butter to two parts dry ingredients, and I think I added a little more to make it thick. Then I poured it into cottage cheese and margarine containers, and put them into the freezer to harden. After a few hours I took them out, poured hot water over the containers, unmolded them and sliced one-inch cakes. I put one of each kind in a wire feeder by our back deck and waited to see who answered the call.
And I waited. The next day came and still no visitors. Was my bird chefery destined for failure? I moved the suet feeder several yards away close to some trees and our dry seed feeder, and advertised with broken up suet chunks in nearby bushes and saplings. While I haven’t got a good picture of the birds chowing down on it yet, I did see some evidence the squirrels had been performing circus tricks on the pole.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, dried fruit, including raisins, can be added to suet cakes. So can dried insects, but I don’t think I’m going there. The birdies can dig up protein for themselves in the spring.