Backyard Two-for-One

Conservation takes many forms. This month we are going to tackle food waste and wild birds. One of the easiest ways to enjoy wildlife without leaving home is to watch birds in your yard or at a feeder. Unlike many parts of the country, Texas does not have a hard-pack freeze in the winter, but our feathered friends can still use a leg up in the cooler months. 

Offering scraps as food for birds is a great way to save money on birdseed by using food that might otherwise be thrown away. Less is wasted and the birds enjoy a greater variety of treats that may keep them coming back to your feeders.

This kind of supplemental feeding certainly helps individual birds in your neighborhood, and the general rule is: do not feed when it might cause harm. Like humans, just because they like to eat something doesn’t mean it is good for them. 

Common yardbirds in Texas include bluejays, cardinals, finches, robins, sparrows, doves, and grackles. Depending on your specific homestead, you may even have an owl or two, hawks, or turkey buzzards. 

Serving Suggestions

Instead of throwing in the trash or compost, these items will appeal to most Central Texas yardbirds. 

  • Apples: Slice and remove the seeds. 
  • Bananas: Remove the peel and cut in half lengthwise.
  • Cooked pasta and rice: A favorite of bluejays and woodpeckers. Serve plain, and chop pasta into little bites to make it easier to eat.
  • Eggshells: Bake clean shells at 250 degrees for 15 minutes. Crush and set out in a dish, or mix in birdseed. They provide calcium for egg laying
  • Melon, pumpkin and squash seeds: Roast in the oven first and scatter. 
  • Peanut butter: This is a nearly-universal favorite. Drop a dollop in a dried-out orange half, or spread over a pinecone.
  • Raisins: Soak in warm water so they’re soft and easier for birds to bite.

DIY Suet

Suet is affordable and great in the fall and winter when birds need more calories to maintain body heat and energy levels. Suet is animal fat that has been rendered to form hard cakes, balls, or other shapes. You can use bacon and pork meat drippings, which are soft but is still suitable for the birds as a rare treat. But, do not feed bacon drippings exclusively; some compounds and high salt content from that type of fried fat could be harmful long-term. 

Strain the fat several times to remove any particles or contaminants. Pour into molds or containers to cool. Cakes can be chopped or cut for direct feeding, or pressed into containers to fit your feeders. It may also be frozen for several weeks.

Add simple ingredients to make it more appetizing to a wider range of birds; chunky peanut butter, cornmeal, and white or wheat flour. If using peanut butter, melt it with the suet for better blending. 

Popular ingredients to customize a suet recipe include favorites listed here, but you can also add chopped, unsalted nuts (especially peanuts); or insects, such as dried mealworms, flies, or crickets.

Enjoy an im-peck-able view!