If you're a bird-lover looking for something fun to do, making bird seed ornaments could fill the bill (pun intended). Gather up your kids, or grandkids, a few ingredients, most of which are in your pantry, and have fun making eye-catching ornaments to hang in your yard.
And while you're making those ornaments you might want to make some extras; they are unique, one of a kind gifts -- especially if your child or grandchild helped make them. Think of all the people on your gift list.
Moms and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, the postman -- seriously, doesn't everyone love handmade gifts, especially from children? And everyone could benefit from some quiet, de-stress time watching birds nibble away from the bird seed ornaments you made.
But before we get to that, let's get one thing out of the way.
Is It Birdseed Or Bird Seed?
You may have seen birdseed spelled as bird seed or birdseed, which begs the question: Which is it -- birdseed or bird seed? After all, it's not chickenfeed or hummingbirdfood or pigslop, so why would it be birdseed?
While surely that logic makes sense, the fact is, bird seed is officially one word: birdseed. It's true -- the dictionary says so.
But really, it doesn't matter for our purposes. All that matters is that the little birdies get their food.
Bird Seed Ornaments 101
If you have kids or grandkids, making bird seed ornaments together is not only fun, it's also a learning opportunity, and even more importantly, it's an opportunity to make happy memories.
Having fun, learning new things, creating happy memories, and making gifts that will be appreciated by the recipients and birds. What more could you ask of an afternoon?
But before you gather up the kids and raid the pantry, there are a few things that are good to know.
In the winter months, birds need high-energy (high fat) food, like suet and peanut butter, to help them survive frosty nights. While you can also use suet and peanut butter in the summer, ornaments made with them will be safer and last longer in colder months.
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Birds easily digest and metabolize most animal fats, which are high energy foods for them. Beef, mutton, and soft suet blends provide that fat and are excellent choices for cold weather.
Since fresh fruit and berries aren't readily available in winter months, dried fruits are a great addition to winter bird seed ornaments. The bright red color of dried cranberries will not only make your ornaments colorful, but they will also attract the attention of fruit-loving birds.
In the summer, even though food is plentiful, birds need high protein foods, especially when they're molting or carrying for hungry nestlings. Some high-protein seeds that birds love are black oil sunflower and nyjer. Add them to your bird seed mix for the summer ornaments.
No-melt suet mixes that are made with less fat and gelatin work well in the summer. But in warmer temperatures, it's best to hang ornaments in the shade.
What to avoid
While birds like bacon fat, it isn't recommended for them. The nitrosamines and carcinogenic compounds in the preservatives can pose long-term health risks. So, when looking for animal fats, it's best to stick with beef or mutton suet.
Your ornaments melting suet can be just as dangerous to birds' feathers as a toxic oil spill. The melted fat destroys their feathers' natural insulation and waterproofing, leaving the birds vulnerable to temperature changes or bad weather.
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While peanuts are a good source of protein for birds, make sure the peanuts are roasted and in small pieces. Parents often pass the peanuts to their chicklings, and larger pieces could get stuck in the throat suffocating the chick.
Seasoned, flavored, or coated peanuts are unsafe for birds. And never feed birds raw peanuts. Raw peanuts have the health risk of aflatoxin, a fungal toxin fatal to birds. Roasting them removes that risk.
Speaking of fungal toxins, check your bird seed ornaments often for mold. In hot, humid weather, the potential for mold significantly increases, and some molds produce the byproduct aflatoxin. Just as an aside, aflatoxin is dangerous for humans as well.
Do not use red dye! That's something that can't be said too often when it comes to feeding birds.
And be bear aware. In North America, black bear populations are increasing, and the big bruins are attracted to bird seed ornaments. If this is a concern in your area, wait until the bears hibernate before putting out your ornaments.
What To Gather
You'll need a pot to heat the suet or water, for the gelatin. If you have a non-stick pot, clean-up will be easier, but it's not necessary. Then you'll need a large mixing bowl and a large, sturdy spoon to mix everything thoroughly.
You'll need something to hang the bird seed ornaments with, so you'll want to have some twine or ribbons available.
I tend to lean towards the twine, especially in late winter early spring. After the ornament is nibbled up, the twine will make good nest material. But whatever you choose do not use fishing line, which presents potential harm.
You'll need some parchment, wax paper, or a silicone mat, and a cooling rack. And some straws, skewers, or toothpicks will make putting the holes (to hang) in your ornaments easier.
And finally, you'll need something to form your ornaments.
Cookie Cutters Or Molds
To form your bird seed ornaments, you'll need some cookie cutters or molds. I'm partial to this emoji mold; seeing them hanging on the tree outside my family room window always makes me smile.
Ok, I admit the bird seed makes the emoji faces not apparent, but I know they're there and I still smile.
Or you can also use mason jar lids. Basically, you will want something at least an inch or so thick.
If you don't have cookie cutters or cute silicone molds, don't despair. Muffin tins, even muffin top tins, will make excellent bird seed ornaments.
And if you don't have muffin tins, you can always use a square pan; those 8" brownie pans work just fine.
Spray the pan with non-stick spray, pat the mixture firmly into the pan, then when it's cool, flip it over onto a cutting board. Cut into squares, or diamonds, viola you have bird seed ornaments.
Now that we have the hardware covered, let's get into the ingredients.
To make bird seed ornaments, whether it's winter or summer, you will need some bird seed. Remember, for those summer ornaments you might want to mix in some black oil sunflower and nyjer seeds to your bird seed mix.
You can't go wrong adding some unsalted roasted pumpkin seeds and chopped peanuts too. And if you want to have the best bird seed ornaments, add some dried mealworms, the birds will love them.
Dried fruits are good to use throughout the year, even when fresh fruit is readily available. Raisins and dried cranberries are always an excellent choice. Many birds especially like dried orange slices, and they make attractive "fringe" to those bird seed ornaments.
Other items you will need are suet, peanut butter, or unflavored gelatin. Any of these three ingredients will make the "glue" that holds everything together.
Let's Make Bird Seed Ornaments
Now that you have everything gathered, let's make some bird seed ornaments.
For spring and summer
For these warmer weather bird seed ornaments you will need:
Note: You can add dried fruit, chopped peanuts, dried mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, millet, or cracked corn to the bird seed. Just be sure the total amount is approximately four cups, or the ornaments may not form properly.
For fall and winter
If you want to make something special, here's a beautiful wreath you can make for the holidays.
Tip: Do not use twine or rope to hang this wreath as the weight of the wreath will pull through the twine or rope.
Let's Hang Them Up
Now that you've made the bird seed ornaments, it's time to put them out and watch the birds appreciate your efforts. Or wrap them up for gift giving.
If you're really into decorating for the holidays, get a small tree and decorate it with bird seed ornaments and garlands made from fresh cranberries and popcorn. Just be aware that birds won't be the only ones enjoying that yumminess.
Something to remember is that you need to check your ornaments every day or so to make sure mold isn't forming.
And if you use suet, make sure you hang your ornaments in the shade. Take them down if they start melting.
Make the bird seed ornaments, hang them in the shade, and happy bird watching.
Let us know in the comments below if you make bird seed ornaments. Also, please share any of your recipes the birds in your backyard love.