For The Birds

In winter time, birds need some taking care of…

Anyone home?

Anyone home?

I read years ago that songbirds need to eat a third of their weight so they can make their way down south before winter hits.  They don’t all make it, but the ones that do at least can enjoy warmer climes.  But there are birds who stay put in NYC all through winter e.g. black cap chickadees, sparrows, cardinals.

A certain slant of light...

A certain slant of light…

In my Brooklyn community garden, we have a contingent of sparrows and catbirds who stay rent-free, weathering all four seasons, and are full of hustle bustle no matter the temperature.  They are bursts of life and energy in our hibernating garden.

Sparrow in silhouette

Sparrow in silhouette

And surprise sightings in unexpected places, like the Metro North platform in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx.  Winter’s gifts if and when we are ready to receive them.

Black cap chickadee in the Bronx

Winter’s gift: A black cap chickadee in the Bronx

Birds are hearty by nature and design, and city birds even more so.  They have to deal with stuff country and rural birds do not (although I’m sure they have their own hardships).  I appreciate their perseverance to negotiate a city that many humans cannot fathom to attempt.

Out on my deck, one afternoon, a female cardinal came by.  She was lovely with her fawn colored feathers and bright orange mohawk top.  But I didn’t see her mate though he must have been nearby, as cardinal pairs tend to stay close to each other.  I had long been thinking about putting out some winter sustenance for our bird friends and recalled a recipe for “Marvel Meal” from a terrific book about birds, SONGBIRDS IN YOUR GARDEN by John K. Terres.  The author explains that the recipe evolved over time from just straight peanut butter to include shortening and other food ingredients to avoid the risk of it getting stuck in the bird’s esophagus.  Chock full of good and useful information in this book!

For the birds

For the birds: Cornmeal, peanut butter, flour and shortening

Marvel Meal

Thoroughly mix the following ingredients by hand:

(put some elbow grease into it, y’all!)

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup Crisco or other shortening

4 cups cornmeal

1 cup white flour

Get in there with your hands!

Get in there with your hands!

You’ll know it’s ready when it holds together and doesn’t crumble when you give the mixture a squeeze:



Then get your self-serve set up ready:

Food relief program

Food relief program: Milk carton, plastic mesh, handle, cork, twine & electric tape

Of course, you can come up with your own structure, just make sure not to use any metal or tin cans as they can cause injury to birds.  Better to use all those cardboard cartons you’ve got piling up in the corner!

Self serve is for the birds!

Self serve is for the birds!

I put the food under mesh just in case the squirrel who visits my deck doesn’t make a mad grab for the whole kaboodle.  But if he can get his little paw in there to get a taste, that’s okay.


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