For the Birds: DIY birding projects

Photo by Chris Bosak
A downy woodpecker eats a homemade Christmas-themed suet cake, December 2018.

Most birdwatchers I know have a self-reliant, practical side. They don’t necessarily long to live off the grid in a small cabin in the wilderness, hunting for their food and cutting down trees to stay warm, but there is a hint of that spirit in a lot of us.

Luckily, there are many do-it-yourself projects for birdwatchers that may be done in the comfort of our heated, electrified, and well-stocked homes. The projects will save a few bucks (no pun intended) and result in that satisfaction only a good DIY activity can deliver.

The easiest project is making your own hummingbird food. It is inexpensive and requires almost no skill. In other words, perfect for someone like me.

Simply mix four parts water with one part sugar and you’ve got hummingbird food. I usually double the recipe to eight cups of water and two cups of sugar so it lasts longer. I like to bring the water to the point at which it is about to boil then turn off the heat and add the sugar. Most of the sugar will dissolve itself in the hot water, but a minute or two of light stirring will complete the recipe.

Let it cool, fill the feeders and save the rest in a container in the refrigerator. Give the container a quick shake before refilling the feeders.

Red food coloring is not necessary to attract hummingbirds. In fact, some experts say it is harmful to the birds, so why take the chance? Some red on the feeder itself — either on the base or feeding ports — could be helpful, however.

The cost of mixing one part sugar to four parts water is a substantial savings over the hummingbird food found in stores.

Speaking of feeding the birds … homemade suet requires a bit more expense and effort, but is still well worth it. An ambitious do-it-yourselfer can buy or obtain beef fat from the local butcher (not many of them around anymore), render the fat to liquid, and pour into molds. If that’s your method, my hat’s off to you. I tried it once and found it messy and time-consuming.

Another method is melting equal parts lard (or vegetable shortening, if you prefer) and peanut butter for the base and later adding ingredients such as sunflower and other seeds, dried mealworms, oatmeal, cornmeal, and even raisins or dried cranberries.

The suet will take the shape of the container it is stored in, so you can save the plastic cartons from the store-bought suet cakes and reuse them for your own concoction. That way they fit nice and neatly into the suet cages.

Or you can get creative with your suet. Prior to Christmas, a friend and I molded the suet into cookie cutters to offer the birds a little holiday cheer. I don’t think the birds really cared what shape the food was in, but it was fun to watch the woodpeckers and nuthatches nibbling away on a stocking.

I’m sure there are plenty of other DIY bird food recipes. Send me your favorite and fool-proof recipes at the email below.

The projects do not stop there, of course. With my very limited knowledge and skill with tools, I converted a fallen branch into a neat suet holder. I simply used my largest spade drill bit and made holes in the branch. The aforementioned homemade suet can be spooned into the holes. It makes for a more natural-looking feeder than a dark green cage that typically holds suet.

Those with more advanced woodworking skills can make hopper or platform feeders. Bird houses, of course, are a long-time project of the do-it-yourselfer.

I’m missing many bird-related DIY projects, I’m sure. Don’t forget to send me your ideas and plans.

Photo by Chris Bosak A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
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