Posted December 11, 2012 06:02 pm - Updated December 12, 2012 10:11 am
My brother, Jim Conforti, has transformed his Sound Beach, Long Island backyard into an amazingly wondrous bird sanctuary. During my stay last week with Jim, wife Donna, nieces Natalie and Haley and nephew, Hunter, I got a close-up view of birds such as chickadees, goldfinches, tufted titmice, a variety of woodpeckers, wrens and believe it or not, a Rufous hummingbird, right through the family’s kitchen windows. Noticing some of the birds’ fondness for the suet-type feed Jim had hanging in his yard, I decided to make homemade bird food, not just as an early Christmas present for the birds, but as a sort of experiment to see how the birds would react to something new and homemade. The effort was not in vain, and within minutes of putting out the food, Jim’s feathered friends arrived to dine on a home cooked meal consisting of peanut butter, flour, corn meal, cranberries, raisins, quick oats, birdseed and shortening, which made a good substitute for real suet compromised of animal fat. In keeping with the season, we shaped much of the food into balls and wreaths for hanging with bright red ribbon – a nice backdrop for some of the trellises scattered around Jim and Donna’s property. With plenty of food “stations” located in various areas around the yard, the birds sort of waited for their turn at the feeders and moved along, buffet-style, from one feeder to the next, at a nice pace and, astonishingly, in a very orderly fashion. As one bird finished feeding, another swooped in, with many coming back for seconds, thirds and more. The process repeated itself several times throughout the day, and by dusk, leftovers were stored and put away for the next day. The “suet” recipe provided here is guaranteed to entice a wide variety of birds to your yard, and in the event you are playing host to a lingering hummingbird, you will also find the formula for the nectar that keeps Jim’s hummingbird coming back day after day, even this close to Christmas.
Homemade Peanut Butter and Fruit with Oatmeal “Suet”
Quantities may be adjusted to make a little, or a lot
2 pounds vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1 pound jar crunchy peanut butter
2 pounds all-purpose flour
2 pounds cornmeal
2 pounds good quality birdseed, plus more for decorating
1 (6-ounce) package raisins or dried cranberries, or a mixture of both
1 cup quick oats for binding mixture, plus more, as needed
In a large saucepot, over medium heat, melt shortening. Stir in peanut butter, stirring until mixture is combined and well-blended. Remove from heat, mixing in flour, cornmeal, birdseed and fruit. Add just enough quick oats to make the mixture malleable. When mixture is cool enough to handle, form into balls, or squares for suet cages. (Some of the mixture may also be patted into a lightly greased 12-cup Bundt pan for molding into a wreath.) To finish balls or wreaths, press with additional birdseed to coat. Kitchen Ade Note: Use decorative ribbon to hang balls, or wreaths. If wreath is too soft for hanging, chill in refrigerator until firm. Leftover suet may be frozen, and then thawed before use. Yield: about 3 quarts.
Sweet Hummingbird Nectar for Colder Months
Courtesy Jim Conforti
In colder months, Jim Conforti mixes one part granulated sugar to three parts water when making nectar for his hummingbird. (Typically, the mix would be one part sugar to four parts water.) The additional sugar not only provides additional energy for the hummingbird, but it also helps to lower the freezing point of the solution. To make the nectar: bring 3 cups water to a full boil in a pan on the stove, adding 1 cup of granulated sugar to the boiling water. Stir in the sugar, mixing until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat, allowing mixture to come to room temperature before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Mixture will keep for up to 2 weeks.