Last year I wrote about my love-hate relationship with the birds where I had been feeding them bird seed, bread and bird truffles and spending many hours enjoying watching their antics. Over the summer I valiantly tried various means to keep them from eating all my fruit.
Now it is winter again and I am trying different things to feed them:
Bird Seed Cake
Fat is an excellent source of energy for small birds in winter, when their body reserves are used up quickly. But the only species of native bird in New Zealand attracted to fat is the silvereye – and they love it. When I first put this out, the sparrows hovered around for a while (looking slightly startled) trying to figure out what their seeds were coated in but the silvereyes just flew straight in there. Whenever I put some bird seed cake out, the silvereyes are there almost before I turn around and I’m really pleased to see them get a chance ahead of the gluttonous sparrows.
The recipe is very easy: heat fat* slowly in a saucepan until softened and then add in about twice as much seed mix as you have fat. You can add fresh or dried fruit as well to the mix if you want. Peanut butter can be used too as long as it is unsalted. Let it cool a little and then pour into containers – I used a baking tin and then cut it into pieces once it was set. You can store it in a plastic bag in the freezer and pull out a piece when required.
*Use only suet (raw beef or mutton fat from around the heart and kidneys), lard (raw or rendered pig fat), or vegetable fat (shortening) – apparently fat left over from cooking can be harmful to birds.
Sugar Water Feeder
I tried unsuccessfully with one sugar water feeder last year and nothing ever came near it. My mother gave me one of a design that the tuis love at her place. I had it originally next to where I have the other bird feeders but have recently moved it further away and close to the kowhai and flax that the tuis are used to going to. I still haven’t seen any tuis feed at it but I have seen silvereyes. It can apparently take a while for the birds to find the feeder and you just need to be patient. But I needn’t have worried about the feeder being too close to the house (or that the tuis wouldn’t have food) as this photo of a cheeky tui feeding on a camellia just a metre from my kitchen window shows.
My tui feeder is from Just Add Worms and uses a soft drink bottle with holes drilled near the cap. You dissolve 8 tbsp of white sugar in a jug with a small amount of boiling water. Once the sugar has dissolved, add cold water to cool the mixture and pour into the feeder bottle. Continue to fill the bottle with water to within 10cm of the cap. Adding a few drops of red food colouring (optional) makes it easier to see the level of the mixture through the site holes. It may also help to attract tui to the feeder. The bottle is put upside-down into the feeder with a tray underneath.
Feeding with Fruit
I was also given a suet/fruit feeder. It works well with peanut butter truffles. You can also use half an apple or an orange – held in place by skewering the fruit with the wire. I’ve also put pieces of mandarin on the sugar feeder table for the silvereyes.
The only problem with fruit is that the birds may think that all the other fruit in the garden is up for grabs as well, particularly if you have the same things in the garden as you are putting out in feeders.