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Frugal living tip #45. November 12, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. At Poor Richard’s Almanac, we’ve been giving you a Frugal Living Tip every week in 2009 to try to help us all get through a very tough economic year. This week, our tip is for the birds.

Many of us love to invite the wild birds to our backyards by setting out seed and treats. But as you know if you maintain birdfeeders, those costs can mount up fast! We’ve seen seed wreaths and other treats offered for $18.95 each. And even if you skip the fancy stuff, it’s amazing how fast birds (especially when assisted by squirrels) can polish off a feeder full of seed. So here are some tips to help you enjoy your birds without going broke:

* Buy the basics. Black oil sunflower seed and white millet attract the widest species of birds, so buy them separately and skip the fancy mixtures. Use black oil sunflower straight in your tube feeders, and mix it half-and-half with millet in your cabin (hopper) feeder.

* Skip the nyjer. Nyger thistle (also called niger) is a high-priced seed that’s supposed to be irresistible to goldfinches, and you have to buy a special feeder to contain the tiny seeds. Well, guess what? Our goldfinches prefer plain old black oil sunflower seed to nyjer. Save your money.

* Forget the pricey feeders. You can buy plastic tube feeders from Droll Yankees (who make the the best feeders on the market) for $7.95. We were dubious, but wanted to try one of these affordable feeders to see how it held up. Our backyard birds prefer this feeder to any of our more expensive ones, and not only has it held up perfectly for three years now, but it’s the one we keep going year-round (two, actually, we just had to buy another one). We got ours at our local Agway, but I’m sure they’re available wherever backyard birdfeeders are sold. If spending even $8 on a birdfeeder is too much, you can buy a little kit that will convert an empty 2-litre soda bottle into a tube feeder for $2.95. It looks as good as any tube feeder and holds a ton of seed so you won’t have to refill it as often as a standard tube feeder. And why buy a ground (tray) feeder when you can simply scatter seed on the ground? Our birds love foraging in the leaves beneath our tube and cabin feeders.

* Buy suet, not suet cakes. Every winter, our local grocery offers bags of suet for a fraction the cost of suet cakes. If you save the mesh bags you buy onions in, you can put chunks of suet in the empty bags and hang them out for woodpeckers, chickadees, hawks, and other suet-lovers.

* Or make your own suet cakes. Melt chunks of suet over low heat, stir in peanut butter, bacon fat, and/or lard if desired, add birdseed (you can of course add nuts and/or raisins, too, if you want), then pour the mixture into empty tuna or cat-food cans and freeze it. Once they’ve solidified, remove your homemade suet cakes from the cans and store them in a plastic freezer bag until you’re ready to set them out in your suet cages.

* Make peanut butter pinecones. Buy a big jar of store-brand peanut butter on sale. Wrap yarn around the top ring of scales on each pinecone and tie it to make a loop for hanging. Using a knife or spoon, press peanut butter into the scales, then roll each pinecone in birdseed. Hang them from a tree or bush where you can watch the action from a convenient window.

* Make bagel wreaths. One bagel can go a long way when it comes to making seed wreaths for your backyard birds, and a stale one works even better than a fresh one. Slice your bagel into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and string a yarn loop for hanging through the hole in each slice. Coat one side of each slice with peanut butter, press it into birdseed, and hang.

* Offer stale baked goods. Any leftovers are welcome treats for your flying friends, as long as they don’t contain chocolate, which is toxic to birds as it is to pets. Bread, muffins, biscuits, crackers, cornbread, doughnuts, pizza crust, croutons—if you have leftovers that have been sitting a little too long, this is a great way to use them.

* Grow your own. If you’re a gardener, choose landscape plants that offer seeds or fruit for birds as well as delight to you. Roses with big hips, crabapples, coneflowers, viburnums, sunflowers—the list is endless. You can even grow a garden especially for the birds, with ornamental corn, millet, sorghum, sunflowers, safflower, and other treats. But there’s no reason to go to this extreme (unless you’d find it a fun family project) when you can fill your yard with plants that do double duty as ornamentals (for you) and edibles (for your birds).

* Just add water. Remember that water attracts more species of birds than any type of seed, and it’s the cheapest way to attract backyard birds to your yard.

* Make a mess. Well, maybe this is really the cheapest way to attract birds, if you have a discreet place to make one: a stick pile. A pile of small branches and twigs will give birds shelter and protection from predators. And gardeners, leaving your dead grasses and perennials up until spring will shelter and feed birds, too!

If you all have great frugal birdfeeding tips to share, we’d love to hear them!

           ‘Til next time,