bird feeders

A little birdie SOS call

In the aftermath of Sandy across the Eastern Coast of the US, our week of wet and windy weather here seems to pale into insignificance. I hope that if you’re reading this from across the pond you’re safe and well, unscathed by the havoc the storm has wreaked.  In our small corner of England, the stormy weather is proving traumatic for the garden birds arriving here for the Winter months.  Stories abound of weary birds dropping from the skies into the waters around  coastal harbour towns, metres from reaching dry land, after days of flying in battering, gusty winds.  Harry and I have decided to launch our own garden bird SOS by making a myriad of DIY bird feeders, to welcome the exhausted new arrivals and help to fatten them up for the chilly months ahead.

Making birdseed feeders is one of the messiest and most fun kitchen projects; it’s incredibly simple, gratifyingly mushy, and very forgiving; if your mixture hardens before you’re done, you can just warm it up and start all over again.  We made a mixture of feeding balls and cookie-cutter shapes, pierced through with straws to create a hanging hole for thread…

Some of these looked so pretty that I think we’ll make them again to accompany Christmas gifts for our green-fingered friends and family members.  Others looked so vast and lumpy that we had to search out very hardy branches to hang them from; I suspect that any robin or chaffinch brave enough to tackle one of those will have trouble getting airborne for a while afterwards..

The other glorious thing about these is that even the most haphazard and amateur cook can manage it (that’s us, of course…).  As long as your ingredients are in proportion to each other, you’ll be fine. So, grab a cup or  a mug and measure out:

  • 4 cups of birdseed (we chose a winter bird mix, with differing sizes of grain to attract different birds)
  • 3/4 cup of flour
  • 3 large spoons of golden syrup (corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup of hot water, in which you’ve sprinkled and stirred a sachet of powdered gelatine (find these in the home baking section of supermarkets)

Mix all of these together in a bowl. Have lengthy and circular conversation with any young children about why this is one recipe where they are not allowed to lick the spoon and/or bowl at the end

Spoon into pre-greased cookie cutters, using your fingers or the back of a teaspoon to squish the mixture into the edges and compress it down; the more firmly you can pack it, the easier it will be to hang and then peck. For the birds, that is.  Resist the urge to peck at them yourself.  Poke a chopped up piece of straw into each to create the hole for hanging.

After a couple of hours of drying, ease them out of the cookie-cutters and remove the straws, then turn over, so each side can harden.  Ideally leave them overnight for this stage.  If you need to free up the kitchen counter space, you can pop them in the freezer for an hour instead, which does the trick.

Finally, thread a piece of string, cord or ribbon through each, ready to hang; we chose bright ribbon to attract the birds, and to give us something cheerful to look at through the kitchen window..

So now we’ll retire indoors, and await the happy sound of chirruping and crunching from our feathered friends.  At least, that’s what I have assured Harry will happen.  I suspect that in fact I will be bursting through the door again in minutes, shrieking at the squirrels who will descend upon our efforts with glee, as the neighbours look at me, baffled at such random behaviour.  Such is life…

Feathered Afternoon tea

The sun is shining at last and the birds are chirping gaily in the trees, the Biblical torrents of rain a distant memory.  Let’s draw a veil around the fact that the chirping tends to begin at around 5am in the particularly large tree right next to our bedroom window, and be grateful for small things.  Still, action is called for; Harry tends to make the most noise when he is hungry, so applying the same logic to our dawn chorus I have set about constructing these tea cup feeders (below).

I saw a version of this idea here and fell in love; ever since I’ve been scooping up random bits of china from charity shops (I also use them in cake stands like my one here, and to make pretty filled candles).  Leftover spindles and paint from our house restoration provided the other parts – though old broom handles or curtain poles would work great too, particularly for larger cups.  Paint the spindles, glue cup to saucer and saucer to spindle and hey-presto! a bird feeder.  Not just any feeder at that, but a chic and tasteful one that can be painted to contrast with (or coordinate with) your garden.  A happy consequence of the small saucers and the petite scale of these is that squirrels find them particularly challenging…. I mounted mine by our pond (below) and have watched a small army of them attempt – and fail – to hustle some seed.

A few tips… if your spindle has a particularly pointy end, use that one to dig into the ground (obvious I know, but worth evaluating carefully before you set about glueing on tea cups…).  Shallow cups and saucers work best so that the birds can access the seed very easily and without having to hop into the cup and risk missing a sighting of the local cat / fox / toddler who is stealthily heading their way.  For location, try a few ideas out – I found they look best in groups, and when spaced at different heights.  Moving them around in this bucket of sand allowed me to decide on their final position without too much exertion.  Not least because my long suffering husband was the one who lugged the pot around behind me, as I waltzed around the lawn crying ‘left a bit! No, not there!’, until steam rose gently from his brow.  Hmmm, some marital brownie points to be re-earned, I think…