Feeding Birds

November 2014

Take Action November 7, 2014

Easy to Make Pinecone Bird Feeders

For many, November marks the start of a season of delicious, fattening goodies! We aren’t alone in this habit, as cooler temperatures approach, many warm-blooded creatures pack on the pounds critical to survive the colder, darker, winter months. For birds, it means having access to nutrient-rich, fat-laden nuts, seeds, and even straight-up fat (like in suet). Consider making these easy to assemble pinecone suet feeders so your bird-neighbors have enough energy to survive the winter. Unlike us, they actually need that extra helping of fat this time of year!

1. Collect Pinecones


Photos © Brian

On your next walk in the woods, look for fallen pinecones. The late fall and early winter is a great time to find pinecones in the woods. If you cannot locate pinecones, you can also make suet cakes (see #10 below), which uses the same basic ingredients.

2. Attach a Wire or String

Securely attach wire or sturdy string to the top of the pinecone. Thin, “floral wire” is available at local craft stores. However, any thin wire around your home will suffice. Yarn can be effective, but it has a tendency to thread and break more easily when blown around, so your pinecone feeder may not be as sturdy once it’s hung outside.

3. Get Beef Tallow


Photos © thedabblist

At your local store, in the meat section, find a chunk of tallow (beef fat). How much you need will depend on how many feeders you are making. About one pound of tallow will yield about six small/medium sized pinecone feeders. Tallow is usually very inexpensive and one of the best forms of fats to feed to birds–it’s a better option than Crisco, which is comprised of hydrogenated oils, and firmer than peanut butter (once it cools). If you do not see tallow amongst the cut meats, ask the butcher if they have tallow chunks in the back.

4. Melt Your Tallow


Photos © Susy Morris

Slowly melt the tallow in a pan on low heat, you want the fat to melt so you can work with it. Do not overheat or overcook it. Otherwise, it might splatter and burn your skin.

5. Ready a Bowl of Bird Seed

Any heatproof bowl will do

In a large bowl or pyrex pan, pour in a thick layer of mixed birdseed, preferably one that your birds are used to feeding on.

6. Coat Your Pinecone With Tallow

Once the tallow is melted, turn it off and let it cool. Wait a few minutes until the tallow starts to become more of a glue like texture–not liquid and not solid. Then, pick-up your pinecone by the wire and drag it through the fat. Be careful, the tallow is still hot. Move the pine cone around so it is thoroughly coated, and some of the oil gets down into the scales.

7. Coat Your Pinecone With Bird Seed

dipping-in-seed

Take the tallow-covered pine cone and do your best to submerge it in the bird seed. Sometimes it helps to pick-up seeds and sprinkle them over the pinecone, or push the seeds into the sticky crevices. Do this before the tallow hardens. You may have to reheat the tallow a couple of times to keep the softer texture, if you are doing multiple pinecone feeders. Before taking the pinecone out of the seed pan, lightly shake or spin it to release loose seeds.

8. Cool on Wax Paper

When you are done covering the pinecone with seeds, place it on a piece of wax-paper. If you are going to wrap-up the feeder as a gift, wax paper is best to use as your first layer, so the seed-covered pinecone does not stick to your wrapping materials.

9. Hang in a Favorite Spot!


Photos © mel issa

If you are going to put the feeder outside right away, let it firm-up on the wax paper, then transfer it to a tree you frequently see birds feeding in. If you have a bird feeder established, hanging the pinecone near your feeder will help ensure the birds find it quickly.

10. No Pinecones? Make Suet Blocks

If you are unable to access pine cones, feel free to follow the steps above and instead of putting the melted tallow on your pinecone, transfer it to a bowl of mixed bird seed. Thoroughly mix the seeds and tallow. Then, transfer the concoction into a deep pan. Spread it out so it completely covers the bottom of the pan, as though it were cake batter. Once it is hardened, you can cut out the suet cakes like large brownies!

Show Us How You Feed Birds!

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For more ideas on how to create bird habitat at home, visit YardMap. And, if you’re feeding birds, join Project FeederWatch and collect data for science!

This Month’s Articles

BirdSpotter Highlights: Beautiful Feeder Birds

Slideshow November 26, 2014

Dos and Don’ts of Feeder Placement

Take Action November 20, 2014

Top 10 FeederWatch Birds in 2013-14

From Our Data November 13, 2014

Easy to Make Pinecone Bird Feeders

Take Action November 7, 2014

15 Comments

  1. Mackenzie says:

    That’s awesome- a whole lot easier than other pinecone recipes.

  2. Astrid Soria says:

    Love the idea, however, how do you keep the squirrels from getting to the pine cones first?

  3. I find the birds prefer chunks of butcher fat rather than store bought suet cakes.
    They go to the fat first.
    I use to render it down , add bird seed, raisins, dried cherries, coconut, oatmeal, peanut butter & a little sand .
    They still prefer the raw fat & a lot less work….

  4. Heidi says:

    I know it’s messier, but is peanut butter nutritionally ok for the birds? We’re vegetarian, so I’m not excited about cooking beef fat in my kitchen. We do buy commercial suet cakes, but I’d love to try making these pinecones.

  5. Denise Raymond says:

    This is a great idea. A nice home cooked meal for our feathered friends during the cold wintry months – yummy! I’d like to make a few batches as gifts this Christmas. I’d like to include a note regarding storage and an approximate expiry date, along with your recipe and website. Thank you for any additional information you may have. Merry Christmas!

  6. beth heine says:

    I love this easy-to-follow recipe and am going out the door now to look for pine cones in Sonoma, CA!

  7. Jen Sherwood says:

    The photo of the finished pinecone feeder shows the string tied to the stem end of the cone. If you tie the string to the tip of the cone instead, so that the cone opens facing upward, the seed stays in the cone’s crevices better.

  8. Kathy Patterson says:

    I am very pleased that your article making suet pine cone feeders DID NOT include using peanut butter. Instead, the directions are to melt beef fat/tallow. Peanut butter should NEVER be used because it can actually stick to the birds’ beak and tongue and they can’t remove it.

    This happened to an unfortunate downy woodpecker and the bird tried repeatedly to remove the sticky peanut butter from its bill. It kept opening and closing its bill so it loooked like the woodpecker was trying to “cough” something up. ALways use beef fat/tallow and follow the directions above.

    Kathy Patterson
    Salem, OR

  9. Nancy Baiter says:

    I had a lot of fat in the pan from baking spare ribs, so I offered it to the birds, hardened and with their regular seed stuck in. No joy! Is pork fat not as good as beef?

  10. Barbara says:

    The birds do not eat the food or the suet I put out. The squirrels have a feast………WHAT AM I DOING WRONG.

  11. laura says:

    Yes, I was wondering about pork fat too, specifically bacon grease. Would that work at all? Thanks,
    Laura

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