Taking care of our feathered friends and a few squirrels in the winter is the delight of many people. Usually when the weather becomes consistently cold, folks will put out feeders to keep the birds happy. But Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen's Janine Washle has a family tradition to give something special to the wildlife near your home. When this is a family tradition, it typically passes down through the generations. Feeding birds does require some thought though. It isn't a good idea to feed birds through the year because they become reliant on the food source. The better choice is to feed them from the time it becomes consistently cold until it becomes consistently warm.
An inexpensive food that attracts a wide variety of birds is black oil sunflower seeds. The hull to seed ratio is great and the seed provides important protein for the birds. The hull is thin and easy to crack; whereas, other sunflower seeds have thicker shells that only larger birds can crack. Suet is another inexpensive protein and oil source. This is from beef kidney and can be readily found in groceries.
Once the birds ingest seeds, it goes to the gizzard, a muscular part of the stomach. A grinding action takes place here and is greatly aided by grit. In the wild, birds get grit from sand or dirt. It is easy to make a palatable grit from eggshells. To prevent any bacteria issues, wash the shells in hot water, then bake in the oven on low heat, around 250 degrees for about 30 minutes. Pulverize the shells using a mortar or pestle to approximately the diameter of sand bits. Put in a feeder for the birds to consume as they need it.
Another important consideration is water. Providing a bird bath for a drink is an important addition. Research shows that birds prefer a bird bath that is close to the ground rather than raised. In the winter, put a few branches across the bath so they won't get wet while drinking. Other treats that birds love is unbuttered, unsalted, unflavored popcorn, oranges (attracts orioles), and peanuts that attract nuthatches, and woodpeckers.
Taking the Christmas tree after the holidays and creating a bird tree is an educational opportunity. String popcorn and leftover raw cranberries, mix peanut butter and birdseed and fill gourds or even cat food cans and tuck among the branches. Cut old hangers and bend in a hook then thread orange or apple segments on them.
To amp up the educational aspect, go online to www.cornell.edu and search for "Feederwatch", a program that surveys the birds that visit bird feeders. Another interesting program is coordinated between Cornell and Audubon Society, "Backyard Bird Watch". www.audubon.org is a valuable birding resource. In fact, an upcoming project is the 113th "Christmas Bird Count" from December 14th through January 5, 2013.
No matter how involved we are with taking care of our feathered friends, their antics, beauty, and interaction with nature bring joy to many of us from our youth well into our Senior years.
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CloverFields Farm & Kitchen
Hardin Springs Area
Big Clifty, KY 42712
Janine Washle and her family live at the Cloverfields Farm and Kitchen in Big Clifty, Kentucky in Hardin County. CloverFields Farm & Kitchen, part of a century old farmstead, is our home and business. The McGuffin house, the original farmhouse, is a registered state landmark. CloverFields Farm has a prosperous farming history. They are continuing this rural story in their own unique way by the addition of CloverFields Kitchen a place to explore the past through food and merge it with our modern lifestyles.