Make Your Own Birdseed Ornaments

I decided to do something a bit different again, just to change things up. Some readers may remember my attempt at making my own suet cakes (Keeping Busy During the Quarantine: Make Your Own Suet, May 6, 2020). This time I thought I would attempt to make smaller morsels and I found my inspiration on the National Audobon Society’s Instagram. On December 21st 2020 they posted a video with an easy birdseed ornament recipe, so I decided to test it out.

1 Tablespoon of unflavored Gelatin

I still had a heap of gelatin from my suet cake experiment. It was actually a relief to use some of it, as I won’t be cooking it for human consumption, my husband being a vegetarian. A tablespoon ended up being two packets (7 grams each).

2 Tablespoons of cold water- sit one minute

I am not sure if you are supposed to stir the gelatin in the cold water, but I did. It resulted in some lumps and clumps.

1/3 cup of boiling water- stir until dissolved

While I stirred I made sure to knead the lumps. This broke them up and make for a consistent texture throughout the mixture.

2 cups birdseed-mix thoroughly

In the video they show cherry seed. I just used the mix I have, which is one of my own concoction. As I stirred the mix, you were able to see the gelatin sparkling and shining on the seeds, making it fairly easy to determine when it was “thoroughly” mixed.

Fill cookie cutters-press down firmly

The video shows the cookie cutters on a cutting board. I decided a baking tray would be easiest, and I used a piece of baking parchment to be sure that the surface of the tray didn’t get gross from gelatin.

The mix filled eight average sized cookie cutters, all between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches long.

The video shows all metal cookie cutters being used, but I decided to experiment with a mix of metal and plastic cutters. I actually had the same set of metal cutters as in the video, and a very similar set of flimsy plastic cutters from the Dollar Store. For the sake of science, I made sure I did two the same shape (the star) so that it will be easier to judge if the material of the cutter alone makes it easier or harder to extract, rather than considering if the shape was a factor.

Refrigerate overnight

I placed them in my refrigerator. And there they sat, not for one night, but two because, well, life happens.

Gently remove from molds

After a bit of gentle coaxing I determined that the best way to get the ornaments out of the cookie cutters was by pushing the ornaments from behind, while pulling the mold backward. This worked really well with the metal cutters. The plastic cutters were a bit more stubborn, and I did need to apply a bit more force to separate them from their molds.

I managed to get both of the ornaments from the plastic cutters without a fatality, but I can see how the plastic cutters might result in more breakages than if one uses exclusively metal cutters. But after a few minutes of patiently applying pressure, I had eight ornaments, all ready to put strung up, each about one inch thick.

Pull a threaded needle through a thick area and tie a knot

Here I varied from the directions a bit, primarily because I didn’t want to bother with getting my needle dirty. I decided to try sticking a toothpick into each piece while it was wet, hoping that upon removal the next day, the toothpicks would leave a hole big enough for the thread to go through.

But once I removed the ornaments from the mold, it became apparent that my toothpicks had not pierced any of the ornaments all the way through. Once out of the molds I pushed the toothpicks deeper, finishing the job. The result was a needle shaped hole, and I was able to thread the ornaments without too much effort or muck on my needle. Upon reflection I am not sure the use of the toothpicks made that big of a difference. I could probably have used only one toothpick after removing them all from their molds and it would have been equally as effective. I used very thin, basic white dressmakers thread, which seems like it will do the job. Thicker string might be needed if you make a larger ornament.

Hang on a tree

Since I have bird feeders in my front yard and backyard, I decided to divide the ornaments up. I placed three on the feeder pole in my back yard (left) and five on the tree in my front yard (right). That way I figured I had twice as many chances of seeing birds actually taking a bite out of my ornaments.

Two days later I took a turn around the yard and checked up on my ornaments. The few in the back were untouched, and I think perhaps because they were suspended from the feeder pole, and moving around in the wind, the birds didn’t feel comfortable perching on them. (10 days later I did spot a chickadee having a munch). The situation in the front yard was a bit different. Only one ornament remained on the tree, one was on the ground, and three were missing, strings and all. I think a squirrel may have carried them off whole, or perhaps the deer got at them? I am not sure if deer would be attracted to bird seed, but I suppose they are a lot less choosy this time of year.

Overall, I was happy with how this turned out. It was a lot less mess than the suet cakes. I think the lack of interest expressed by the birds had more to do with my placement of the ornaments than the ornaments themselves. I would be tempted to try this recipe again, and maybe get a bit more creative with the ornaments. If I do, you will be the first to know!

If you would like to see the original source for this recipe, here is the link to the National Audobon’s video:

Winter Bird Watching

If you can stand the cold and have footwear you trust on the ice, winter bird watching can be very rewarding. For starters, the lack of vegetation makes spotting our feathered friends a lot easier. I really enjoy visiting the Celery Farms in Allendale during the winter. Not only is it close to home, but the trail never feels too difficult, even when it is a bit icy in spots. And of course, many of the Celery Farm’s residents stay year round.

The butterflies and the warblers might be gone, but in late December you can still spot a lot of wildlife at the Celery Farms. The Tufted Titmouse sticks around for the winter. While these little guys are easy to spot at your feeder, among the vines and leaves they can sometimes be a bit more challenging to see. This one was so preoccupied with its meal that I was able to get a few shots that really showed of the rusty red on the side of its belly.

Many varieties of sparrows also stick out the winters of northern New Jersey. On this particular day we spotted a White-throated Sparrow. Among White-throated Sparrows there are two color variations with regard to the stripes on either side of their heads. Some birds have white stripes, while others have tan. White verses tan seems to have no bearing on mating or any other behavior and scientists are not really sure why the variation evolved. As you can see, the White-throated Sparrow we saw displayed tan stripes along either side of its head. They are simply less vibrant than the white feathers displayed by others of the species.

We also spotted an American Tree Sparrow. I am pretty confident the American Tree Sparrow was a juvenile, based on its heavily streaked belly. The American Tree Swallow can easily be confused with many other sparrow varieties. It has a rusty colored cap on the top of its head, similar to that of a Chipping Sparrow. If fact it has been nicknamed Winter Chippy because of this similarity. There is a telling dark mark in the center of the American Tree Sparrow’s chest which helps to distinguish it, but you have to be lucky enough to see it from the right angle.

Woodpeckers are present in this preserve in every season. We spotted a few Hairy Woodpeckers trying to find sustenance in the reeds along the edge of the pond. I am not sure if they were very successful, but they certainly were determined as they kept pecking away. It just demonstrates how useful and versatile their talons can be, gripping the thin reeds as effectively as rough tree bark.

The bald winter trees also help to see further distances than would be possible in the spring. Therefore, we were able to spot this Sharp-Shinned Hawk perched up on a tree in the distance, the first I have ever identified. About half the size of the Red-Tailed Hawk, it measures about 20-25 inches. Notice the bars on its tail and the spots of white feathers across its back, known as vent feathers. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk likes to fly at a very low level where it can catch songbirds. It is unclear if it was just taking a break or if it was using this high vantage point as a lookout for dinner. Regardless of its actual purpose, the pose does give the impression of a regal personage, surveying its kingdom.

The Wild Turkeys that live at the Celery Farm year round are also easier to find in the winter. In the spring and summer I can often hear them, their distinct gobble shattering the silence of the space. However, despite their enormous girth, they really keep themselves hidden on the edges of the preserve. Their feathers provide a very effective camouflage against the forest. Measuring three to four feet, and usually assembled in a flock of several birds, it is hard to believe how well they can lose themselves among the vegetation. Again, the absence of leaves in the winter really helps one spot these birds birds.

The Celery Farm’s four legged residents also stick around in the winter. The deer are often less active, but if you look out along the forest floor, you are likely to see some furry ears peaking up. And of course, the lack of leaves also provides a different view of the mushrooms, and the remaining plants.

So bundle up and get out there for a winter walk…you will enjoy it!