With cold, snow and rain, bird lovers get to wondering how to help our feathered friends make it through the winter.
I’ve updated my “Birds in Jackson Hole” column from mid-October 1981 to give you some healthy meals for the birds (please take care to secure your feeders from bruins):
“It is time to think about bird feeders, right there on the list along with taking in the garden hose, mounting the snow tires and putting off the Christmas shopping until, oh, after Thanksgiving, anyhow. If it’s not precisely feeder time, it sure feels like it. After a long summer, inclement weather hits like a ton.
“I guess it’s appropriate to remind everyone that not all birds can eat seeds. Not all can or will eat bread. Some eat fruits and berries, and others eat meat. As I often say, birds are only human, after all. Some humans eat sweetbreads and yogurt. And some don’t.
“There’s no end of bird feeder theory, logic and practice. Everybody thinks he’s an expert on bird-feeding technique. ... and everyone is. Whatever works for you is right, I suppose. I don’t recommend the constant feeding of bread; I’ve found it brings in too many house sparrows and starlings and blackbirds, bird species that are, more than most, capable of finding things to eat. However, some bread (or stale pastries, especially if combined with a little bacon fat) is useful now and then.
“Some fundamentals make sense regardless of what you feed, like picking a place for your feeder that you can get to when it’s cold and there’s a bunch of snow on the ground but where dogs can’t reach and cats can’t lurk.
“Some folks mix sunflower seeds (the real old standby food) with wild bird seed mixtures; most use separate feeders instead. Sunflower seeds are expensive, so every seedeater seems to love them. Most — but not all — of our wintering birds will eat suet. Beef suet provides energy, which translates to warmth, and in winter it can and does mean survival.
“In Jackson Hole, snow becomes a problem for feeders placed on the ground. Juncoes, our snowbirds, feed on the ground and would appreciate ground feeders, but that can get to be a nuisance. Another problem is grit. Birds need grit and are often seen getting it along road edges and in driveways. If you can provide clean coarse sand or parakeet gravel, birds will benefit from it.
“If you decide to feed birds, it is important (and, to them, vital) that you continue through the winter. If you are going to go away, or think you’ll lose interest along about February, don’t start to feed. The little critters could perish.
“The basic ingredients are raw beef suet, sand, kitchen scraps, seeds and grains. Some old-timers bake cornbread for their birds. Others put out Old World, guaranteed-not-to-survive-here seed. One puts out slices of apple and citrus fruits, and another must put out everything known to man and avis. There’s a family that puts out grain, some right on the snow. And so on. Most people who feed at all put out beef suet, in a variety of containers, ranging from onion sacks to logs into which holes have been drilled and suet has been poked.
“And then there’s Finch Fries — a combination of suet, millet, bread crumbs, cubed American cheese (!) and sand. Get this:
• Raw beef suet
• 1 cup millet
• 1/2 cup bread crumbs
• 1/2 cub American cheese, cubed
• Sand for grit
Save tuna-sized cans. Spoon into four of these a combination of 1 cup millet, 1/2 cup bread crumbs and 1/2 cup cubed American cheese. Sprinkle each with a pinch of sand for grit. Put suet through a meat grinder, then melt in a double boiler. Set aside to cool and harden slightly. Reheat. While in liquid form pour in enough suet to fill tins. Refrigerate to harden. Hang in trees or put on a shelf feeder tray.
“Sure. Then, there’s Grosbeak Goolash, Kinglet Kugel, Nuthatch Nibble, Waxwing Wedge and Woodpecker Wellington. And more. Of gee, don’t blame me. ‘My Recipes are for the Birds,’ Irene Cosgrove, Doubleday and Co. Inc., 1975.”
Or visit your favorite pet store to fill your feeders or for any advice on feeding.
Field notes: More sightings of blue jays in the valley came in over the past week. Frances Clark saw one at the Sawmill Ponds overlook Oct. 14. Jen Simon and Adam Meyer watched two blue jays at their feeder in Melody Ranch on Oct. 16, then a single one Thursday. Diane and Keith Benefiel reported interesting interaction between a blue jay and a Steller’s jay in Wilson.
Susan Marsh had a white-throated sparrow at her feeder in East Jackson. “It looked just like the ‘first winter’ picture in Sibley,” she said. A “very nice mix of browns on the wings.”
Susan also reported “a ton of birds here at the moment. I think someone must be butchering an elk because we have a Clark’s nutcracker, four magpies, and an adult bald eagle just flew up the street, about 10 feet off the ground. Also two ruby-crowned kinglets eating aphids out of the aspens.”
Susan, Deb Patla and Mary Lohuis got a good look at a golden-crowned kinglet on the trail behind String Lake on Oct. 15.
On a hike to Bearpaw Lake on Oct. 16, Ann Harvey and Deb Patla saw small garter snake. It’s late for one to be out and active. Deb also noted toad tadpoles barely swimming under the ice in a small pond in Grand Teton National Park near the Snake River. And this week in Buffalo Valley several Clark’s nutcrackers showed very aggressive behavior at Deb’s suet feeder.
Clark’s nutcrackers come to Jackson a lot but are not reported at Skyline Ranch very often. But, this morning, the 19th, two were drawn to my feeder area looking for a meal. Also that day, a Harris’s sparrow was back at a feeder in Skyline.