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Photo by Rebecca Johnson.
Photo by Rebecca Johnson.

Feeding Feathered Friends

Feb 13, 2014

February is National Bird Feeding month, and with this year’s extremely cold temperatures it’s a great month to supplement bird food supplies. “During winter months it is really important that birds have enough food to keep their fires burning,” says K.C. Jensen, associate professor in the Natural Resource Management department at South Dakota State University. “Bird metabolism is extremely high, average body temp is 105 to 107 degrees, so they need lots of fuel.”

Seeds are one of the best sources of carbohydrates, and the more fat the better. “I like black-oil sunflower seeds because they’re readily available, relatively inexpensive and the birds really go for it,” Jensen says. They’ll attract most winter birds like black-capped chickadees, white and red-breasted nuthatches, and downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. Other backyard favorites like blue jays, American gold finches, purple finches, common redpolls and pine siskins also like mixed seeds. And many winter birds enjoy suet.

Ricky Olson, South Dakota Ornithologists Union president, says he’s often asked if we really need to feed birds in winter. “A lot of people say, ‘birds were here before we were and they would survive without us,’ but I don’t believe that’s so true in many areas anymore,” Olson says. “I live in Pierre and there are very few wooded areas left as habitat has been changed for development and housing. I don’t know if there’s enough natural stuff to sustain much of the population, especially in hard winters.” 

Inspired by this info and the national Great Backyard Bird Count set for February 14-17, I decided to make birdseed ornaments for my backyard trees. In honor of Valentine’s Day I made them heart-shaped. This recipe uses coconut oil in place of the usual suet, so it only works for wintertime use. Coconut oil melts at temperatures above 76 degrees.


Bird Seed Ornaments

Adapted from

Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Non-stick cooking spray
About 6 metal cookie cutters
1 cup coconut oil
1 – 1 ½ cups birdseed
Small saucepot
Twine or string

Coat cookie cutters with non-stick spray. Lay each cookie cutter on two squares of foil, then wrap foil up around the cutter’s sides. Thread a 10-inch piece of twine through the cutter. Melt 1 cup coconut oil on medium heat then mix in at least 1 cup bird seed. Let cool so mixture begins to thicken, but is still pourable. (This took a long time, so I set the pot outside for a little while.) Pour the mixture into the cutters until it almost reaches the top. Let harden at room temperature, then place in the freezer, or set outside, for 1 hour. Finally pop the ornaments out of the cutters and tie to your tree. Make sure to tie near other branches so birds have somewhere to perch while they eat.


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