The Curious Birder: Stretch Your Bird Food Budget

The Curious Birder: Stretch Your Bird Food Budget

Published in The Roanoke Star

November 25, 2013

I feed birds all year round, but this winter I will need to put out more feeders. Why? Remember the crazy weather we had this year? I don’t know about you, but my flower and vegetable gardens were not very productive, and my oak trees did not fare any better. With the lack of acorns and seed heads, birds will be relying more on my feeders and emptying them out sooner. So I have thought of some ideas to keep me from going bankrupt and still enjoy seeing the birds that brighten my winter days. If you have thought about feeding birds but shudder at the expense, maybe you will appreciate these bird feeding tips, too.

We throw egg shells in the garbage almost every day, but they are full of calcium and minerals. Birds need additional calcium, especially after nesting season. When I eat eggs I simply return the empty shells to the cardboard carton. When all my eggs are gone and I am left with just a carton of eggshells, I microwave them in the carton, just until they start to pop.  (About 30 to 60 seconds.) That way any possible salmonella germs will be killed. Crunch them up or leave them in halves and toss them out in your flower pots or garden. They will not be there long. It’s so much fun watching Blue Jays and other birds carry them off and eat them. You don’t have to worry if they miss a couple of pieces; your plants will appreciate the added nutrients.

I often forget about that apple I was meaning to eat and maybe it started to get brown or soft spots. Well, apples left on trees look about the same, and birds do change their diet to more fruits than insects in winter. I am not going to eat a soft, mealy apple, but birds don’t care. As long as it is not moldy you would just be helping the birds out. Don’t forget about apple cores. Skewer them on branches, or stick them on a shepherd’s hook.

Do you cut off the tops of strawberries? I leave a little fruit on the green leaves and place them in a dish. If the squirrels don’t get there first the wrens and mockingbirds will make them disappear.

All those pumpkins that we buy and cut up for pies have seeds that birds would love to eat. This also applies to winter squash and cucumber seeds. Instead of throwing out the seeds, toast them in an oven on low heat for a few minutes, just long enough so the shells are easy to crack. Extra bonus- you do not have to rinse the pulp off. These are safe “people foods” for birds. It is still good to have suet and birdseed available, but adding these few extra items will stretch your bird feeding budget and help our feathered friends. You are in a sense recycling. Just make sure nothing is moldy and your eggshells are toasted. The fun begins when you see which bird is the first to eat your special handout.