Winter is for the birds

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DIY bird projects for winter

Cold weather can be rough on our feathered friends. Sparrows, woodpeckers and nuthatches are a few species of birds that stick around our region during winter, but red-hat-wearing cardinals are by far my favorite. Providing birds with food and shelter throughout the winter helps keep them happy and healthy, and lights up my otherwise dismal looking yard with color and song.

DIY birdhouses, seed cakes and homemade suet are a few fun projects that can attract birds to your backyard this winter.

How to make a birdhouse gourd

Birdhouse gourds provide a perfect natural cavity for nest building. They also provide protection from winter elements, owls and other predators. Get started in spring and you can grow your own birdhouse gourds.

Growing gourds

Step 1. Grow birdhouse gourds. Growing large ornamental gourds takes 100+ days. When spring soil is warm, plant 2-3 seeds directly in to the ground, half an inch deep, at least four feet apart. If you’d like to get an early start you can start seeds indoors up to four weeks before last frost.

You can grow gourds on the ground, up a trellis or along a fence line. No matter which method you choose, be sure to give gourd vines plenty of space to expand.

Step 2. Harvest gourds. Gourds are ready to harvest when they quit growing in size. Rinds will look dull and become very hard. Stems will have started to shrivel and brown. Clip gourds with a three inch vine. Leave clipped gourds to cure in field one to two weeks.

Hanging gourdsStep 3. Clean gourds. Wash exterior of gourds with bleach water. Use a 1.5 to two-inch circular hole saw to cut entry way holes into each gourd. Drill hanging hole through the top of each gourd. Scoop out seeds and discard, or save seeds to plant next year.

Hang gourds in a clean, dry place until completely dry. Drying will take several months. Mold will develop on exteriors but don’t worry, mold does not harm gourds.

 

 

Step 4. Buff gourds. When gourds are completely dry, buff their exteriors with fine steel wool to remove mold and debris.

finished gourdsStep 5. Paint gourds. I apply two coats of clear waterproof varnish to gourds to emphasize their natural coloring. If you plan to paint your gourds with decorative themes, apply a light colored exterior house paint to prime the gourd first. Finished houses last several years.

 

 

 

 

Bird seed cakes or ornaments

Ingredients

seed cake ornament

  • 1 (1 oz) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup bird seed
  • Molds (cookie cutters for ornaments, empty square suet containers for cakes)
  • Cord for ornaments (bailing twine works well)

Directions

  1. Combine gelatin and water in a sauce pan over low heat.
  2. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
  3. Add bird seed, stir to coat.
  4. Spoon mixture into molds.
  5. If making ornaments, loop 6 inches of twine and tie a knot at open ends. Push into ornament center.
  6. Allow cakes to set overnight.
  7. Remove from molds after seed cakes have set.

Homemade suet

Ingredients

homemade suet

  • 16 oz peanut butter
  • 3 cups Crisco
  • 6 cups cornmeal
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sunflower seed, chopped peanuts or mixed bird seed

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until blended.
  2. Press into an extra large baking sheet.
  3. Freeze overnight.
  4. Remove from pan and cut into squares.

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