Strictly speaking, this is for the birds. It is not for those among us who are forever searching out a new (and easier) diet! Neither is it for all the birds – it’s just for the winter midgets, who bless us with their daily calls, if we so much as leave them a crumb in the snow.
If you have tried all the tricks to entice them – cages of suet, peanut butter, ears of corn, bright berries, sunflower seeds, sand – probably you have observed, with disappointment, that the hairy woodpeckers crowd out the little downier, and the blue jays seem to take care of driving away most of the others.
Despite all we know of the survival of the fittest, there surely must be a right place in the winter scene for the little birds, without having to wait their turn, and eat the leavings.
No doubt the bright eyes of the tufted titmice, the jerky flight of the downy woodpeckers, the lowly ways of the snowbirds, the upside-down eating habits of the nuthatches, the cheery chatter of the chickadees, who scold you while you are refilling the feeding station, plus the cuteness and beauty of them all, have endeared the wee birds to you far beyond any affinity you may have for the doves, the owls, the rusty blackbirds, the cardinals, the quail and pheasant, and certainly the jays.
That is why it is worthwhile making special places for the small birds to get their food, places for them exclusively, beyond the reach of their larger neighbors, the birds, squirrels, dogs, cats.
Have you ever offered them their food in a grapefruit shell? If not, try it, and they will love you for it. Just remove the white membranes from several grapefruit half shells after the fruit has been used, and place the shells upright in a shallow pan. Fill each one level full of wild bird seed. Melt, slowly, one-fourth pound of suet for each shell you are preparing, and then pour the hot liquid over the seeds until you can see it around them. Place shells in the refrigerator to set. Add more melted suet several times as it cools and shrinks, until the shells are filled solidly to the top.
Next make four holes in the shell with an ice pick, 1/2-inch from the top, and continue upward through the contents until the point of the ice pick comes out through the top of the suet. For each hole, cut a piece of small waxed twine 18 inches in length. Tie one end of a separate length of twine carefully through each of the holes. Now bring the four pieces of twine evenly together about ten inches above the grapefruit shell and tie them together. Finally, tie the remaining twine at the top, securely around the lower branch of a tree near your feeding station and within view of your window. Several shells can be placed on the same branch within three feet of each other, although it is wise to put up just one, in the beginning, until the birds have made its acquaintance.
If the weather is severe and the snow deep, the shells will need replenishing in two or three weeks. You will know it is time, when the birds go down into the shell, rather than staying on the rim. The same shells may be used again and again although you will prefer using fresh ones each time, as they do shrink in size, and in extreme weather the bright yellow coloring darkens some.
When our littlest child brought home our first shell from her club meeting some years ago, we did not dream that any bird would ever visit it. The next day the first chickadee stopped by, which was the beginning of a tradition in our garden that will continue on as long as there are snowdrifts, and grapefruit, and winter midgets.
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