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Whatcha Doin' Up There?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Snowy gray days, up in the tower, writing. I can see the birds and they can see me. For years, they've come to see me when I'm sitting up here. They know I'm the person who fills the feeders. The suet dough feeder, in particular.

Suet dough is expensive enough to make, in both cents and elbow grease, so that I don't put a whole lot out at one time. Should a flock of starlings happen through, I don't want half a batch to disappear down their greedy throats. So I put it out a couple of handfuls at a time throughout the day, especially when I see bluebirds. The bluebirds know this. We're in tune with each other.

The downy woodpeckers know it, too. They come and sit on the top of the chimney and stare at me until they get my attention.

Hello. It's Zick, right? Yes. It's me, Downy. We've met at the feeder. Well. Ahem. The suet dough is gone. That stuff you make for us. It's gone. I'm just sayin'.
Even little Snowflake, the leucistic junco, came up to check in with me. She's hooked on suet dough. We think this is her second year with us, but she's whiter than she was last year. See Bill of the Birds' nice pictures of her both this year and last year.
Of all the birds, the bluebirds are the most shameless beggars. They line up, all eight of them, on the gutters.They clean up the dough in the dish, and then they fly up to the high ridgepole where they close in to control me with their minds.Hello. We enjoy your hospitality, and the food you serve. Now bring more of it. Please.

The fame of your Suet Dough has spread far and wide in Bluebird Land. We have brought our best friends to your fine establishment today. Please do not disappoint them. Are you almost done with that sandhill crane chapter?

Mether. I do not like it when you leave our tower fort to go put out more suet dough. I think you pay entirely too much attention to those bluebirds. You need to at least finish a paragraph before you run down the stairs again. There is someone else here with needs, too. And it is me.In the interest of full disclosure, the photographer rolled Chet Baker's cutelip out before taking the picture. Folded ears were original equipment. Actually, I used to roll his cutelip out. Now what I have to do is tuck his dangling manly jowls in.

And, because some Janie-come-lately is gonna ask, sure as death and taxes:

Zick's Suet Dough

Melt 1 cup peanut butter
with 1 cup lard

(the microwave works great).
Wal-Mart sells lard in big green and white tubs, and yellow cornmeal in big 5 lb. bags, as well as cheap quick oats and flour. Mix dry ingredients separately:

2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups quick oats
1 cup flour.

Stir melted lard/peanut butter mixture into dry ingredients.

Allow to cool, and serve crumbled in an open dish. Store in jars at room temperature. Nice measuring tip: A 40 oz. jar of peanut butter holds five cups. Empty out a jar, then pack it with lard to measure five cups of that. Easier than measuring individual cups, the most onerous part of making it in bulk. Don't be tempted to guesstimate amounts, or you'll get a greasy mess.
I make this recipe, sextupled, using the biggest lobster pot I own, every couple of weeks. What I get in return is a never-ending guilt trip from eight bluebirds and sundry other zillions of birds. It's a problem that only compounds.


I don't know for sure about "hot sauce" but there are commercial suet products on the market with hot pepper mixed in and my local wild bird store assures me the birds love it just as much, but the squirrels DO NOT (...usually). If you were going to try and mix this in to your own home-made suet be sure and wash hands THOROUGHLY afterwards to remove any residue -- Long agto, I once worked with hot pepper feeding some birds and then put my contac lenses in... YEEEEE-OWWWWWWW!!!

I never knew bluebirds would go for a suet mix. Think they would in balmy SoCal? They drop by my house in the fall and eat the olives that have fallen from the tree and then leave until they pass through again in the spring. I had read of meal worms but can't imagine how to get a bunch of them on short notice! I have never put suet out because it is so warm here usually. I may just have to try you think a bird store mix would work--just to test it out?
--by the way, since installing the bird spa, more birds have come than ever. I have been amazed. Birds that I would have never seen in my suburban a hermit thrush! The cedar waxwings, on their way through town, came for baths and stayed for persimmons. That was a sight--the orange persimmons against the blue sky with clusters of waxwings.
--I am so enjoying reading your blog!

How do you get any writing done with all that natural comedy going on!

Between the serious glances of the bluebirds and the concerned glances of Chet Baker -- how do you not laugh out loud all day.

Can't you just hear those blues saying Rapunzel Rapunzel let your suet down. The next thing you know they'll start singing whistle while you work (while you work) and start mending the hemlines of your fairy princess dress.

It will be a hoot reading this book some day knowing the comedic obstacles you had to overcome up there in that exalted tower. You sure know how to live - you are an inspiration to us all!

Zick Dough is Bird-Crack. They are powerless against it.
We are all enablers of this Avian Addiction. And I love it.

My bluebirds love it too, and are the first ones on it as soon as I put it out. I've also had pine warblers, wrens, titmice, and the other day, a goldfinch was imbibing too! Thanks for such a great recipe Julie! It makes me feel good even offering up something so needed, especially in the cold weather.

A couple of those bluebirds don't look to be saying "please" to me. It looks rather more like "get off your duff and put out some more suet".

And poor ignored Chet. So mistreated as he drags hisself out from under the sleeping bag. tee hee

I am one of the waiters... Here little bluebird, come to momma, or I mean suet.

On Friday, I spread your recipe to some PA listers who were unaware of your recipe, your blog, and your book. So I hope you get some bumps in visitorship (not like you need that) and in book sales!

And I second Nina's request--I have very few bluebirds, but I'd love to see more. I also have live mealworms from Susan at Lake Life!

Anne uses a slightly different version that nuthatches and woodpeckers love.
We put it out in log feeders which slows down jays and starlings.

I've always been concerned about putting red pepper in any of my seed (I get more than my share of squirrels), or suet dough. Even if doesn't bother the birds mouths, wouldn't continual eating mess up their stomachs? Then, I'd have to incorporate some Rolaids into the dough :0)

As a feeder of squirrels, can I ask if this recipe is safe for squirrels? I read previous posts about dogs and lard not mixing - is lard bad for squirrels as well?

Dear Carol,

I don't know a whole lot about squirrels, but I do know that they have the largest and most powerful livers for their body size of any animal. They eat toxic mushrooms with impunity. I'd be very surprised if the lard in suet dough were harmful to a squirrel. Sweet that you're worried about it, when most people would hope it'd give them a belly ache.

I suppose if squirrels can eat plastic swing sets, then lard shouldn't be too much of a problem ...

"...don't know a whole lot about squirrels, but I do know that they have the largest and most powerful livers for their body size of any animal. They eat toxic mushrooms with impunity..."

again, going back many years ago, I once got so frustrated with squirrels eating birdseed, that I (and I'm not proud of this) poured chlorine bleach entirely over a trayfull of seed and said have at it -- the squirrels approached slowly, hesitatingly (apparently getting used to the smell) and then devoured it all, with apparently no ill effects!! ...they're incredible.

... and as soon as I comment, complaining that I have no bluebirds, who showed up on Monday morning but Mr. E. Bluebird hisself. Of course, I rushed to serve him his 'dough!

~Kathi, happy to be "blue" again

Super recipe! Mary, from Mary's View just sent me over here and I'm going to make this recipe. Also, I LOVE your website and am going to add it to my blog links if you don't mind. :-)

Dawn from Suburban Wildlife Garden

When I first saw your food tray I thought that you had painted it light blue and orange either to make that bird feel more comfortable or to get a more beautiful photo. But then as I kept thinking about it, I came here to get a closer look, and now I think that the pretty pattern on the food tray is rust.


Just to acknowledge that I've stolen your recipe for use on this side of the Atlantic.
It seems to be popular (especially with blackbirds) but as winter gets colder I expect we'll have more visitors.
Thanks for help!

I made a batch day before yesterday for the first time and haven't put it out yet but I do have a question: Do you have to crumble it or can you put it in a suet feeder? BIG squirrel problem here (nd no pretty bluebirds like yours) so I'm hoping that I can.

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