Background Switcher (Hidden)

Zick Dough, Improved

Sunday, March 7, 2010

photo by Mary Ferracci I've borrowed this wonderful photo from Mary's View. It's a bluebird from her yard in North Carolina who is hooked on Zick Dough. See anything wrong with this picture? It jumps right out at the Science Chimp. He's not putting weight on his left foot, and the toes are swollen. He's in pain. And it's all my fault. I've been quietly working this winter, learning about bird nutrition, perfecting a recipe, trying to right some wrongs. I've posted before about the joys and drawbacks of feeding the homemade suet dough that a lot of people are calling Zick Dough. And I've said before that I feel a little squeamy about having my name on that recipe, even moreso since I figured out that it can give birds who eat too much of it a painful case of gout. You can read about that in the original posts, "Uh-Oh, Zick Dough" and "Crack is a Better Name for It." If you're just joining us for this story, I'll recap: I've been feeding homemade suet dough for years. The basic recipe has always been: OLD ZICK DOUGH 1 cup peanut butter 1 cup lard 2 cups yellow cornmeal 2 cups quick oats 1 cup flour And the birds in my yard have gobbled it up, everything from chickadees, tits and nuthatches to woodpeckers, cardinals, sparrows, towhees and bluebirds. Bluebirds are the biggest fans of Zick Dough. And therein lies the problem. As I've explained, eastern bluebirds are the ultimate addictive personalities. Given an easy food source, they will exploit it to the exclusion of almost everything else. If you stop and think about it, the recipe above is anything but a complete diet. It's fat, some limited protein, and carbohydrates, and it's really rich. It's kind of like living on, well, oats, lard and peanut butter. Here is the foot of a female bluebird who gorged on Zick Dough all winter and into the spring of 2009. She can't put weight on it. It hurts. She's got gout. Or metabolic bone disease. Or something bad. And I strongly believe it was due to an improper diet, and I felt, and still feel, terrible about that. The short-term answer was to suspend all feeding of Zick Dough. And her foot recovered, sort of. The swelling went down, but she had a permanently stiff middle toe, as if she were giving me the finger for feeding her low-value food. And I deserve it. That bluebird disappeared sometime in the fall of 2009. I don't know what happened to her, but I'm sure that if she could come back to my feeder, she would have by now. I have to think that having a stiff foot was a handicap, and I'm ready to take the blame if she died before her time. I'll never know. All I know is she was here for years, and now she's gone. Maybe she was really old, and that's why she ate so much of the easy stuff. photo by Mary Ferracci I don't think it's a coincidence that a bluebird in North Carolina who also gorges on Zick Dough has the same problem. And that's my problem, and that of anyone who feeds this stuff to their backyard birds. Maybe that's you, too. So. I'm cruising along early this winter, feeding my first batch of Zick Dough, enjoying my bluebirds and all the others, and so glad to be able to help them through the worst winter in memory. I didn't start feeding it until it got really cold--Christmas, for goodness' sake--and I planned to suspend feeding it the moment it got reliably warm. My suspicion is that feeding this rich food in warm weather is what got Gouty into trouble. So feeding it only in really cold weather was my interim answer to the problem. One fine morning I get a Google Alert for Zick Dough (it's really out there on the Internet.) It's a piece written for the Maryland Bluebird Society's "Chatter" by Felicia Lovelett. I devour it with great interest. In it, she cites my post, "Uh-oh, Zick Dough" in which I describe possible gout in my bluebird visitors. And she points out that suet dough mixes are very low in calcium, high in phosphorus, and "contain proteins that are relatively low in biological value." Further, she suggests that "Gouty" may have had Metabolic Bone Disease. Well, whether it was gout or MBD, there's no doubt she was all messed up, and I had good reason to suspect it was the steady diet of Zick Dough that messed her up. A male bluebird in my yard, also a heavy imbiber, had the same problem. And both recovered when I withheld the Zick Dough. Ms. Lovelett suggests basing suet dough on a "formulated diet that provides adequate calcium, high quality proteins and other essential nutrients." And she mentions unmedicated chick starter as a base. Chick starter is an extruded pellet that crumbles easily. It's formulated to encourage growth and strong bones in young domestic chicks, kind of like puppy chow for birds. It's got a lot more nutritional oomph than yellow cornmeal, oats, peanut butter or lard. My very next trip was to the feed store, where I bought a small (20-pound) bag of DuMor unmedicated chick starter. (You definitely want to check the label--the last thing we want is to give antibiotics to wild birds!) I spent some time fiddling around with proportions and finally came up with this: NEW ZICK DOUGH: SMALL BATCH Melt in the microwave and stir together: 1 cup peanut butter 1 cup lard In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups chick starter 2 cups quick oats 1 cup yellow cornmeal and 1 cup flour Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well. I made a small batch first, and laid out two piles of Original Recipe and New Improved. It was a gas, watching the birds sample both. Yes, it looks different...Some, like the titmice, tried the new but preferred the old mix. One female cardinal stuck to the old mix. The other cardinals preferred the new recipe. Of my pair of bluebirds, the female liked the old mix, and her mate liked the new. Importantly, they all accepted it immediately, and the switch to the new recipe was seamless and instant. I really hadn't expected it to be that easy. I figured out that the tufted titmice just like bigger chunks to carry off, and the new mix is more crumbly, so they can't find a big wad as easily with the new recipe. All the birds are perfectly happy with the new mix, and everyone is eating better this winter. While I'm at it, I'm going to pass along my secrets for mixing Zick Dough in large batches. Here's my quintupled recipe. NEW ZICK DOUGH: BIG BATCH 5 cups (1 40 oz jar) peanut butter 5 cups (1/3 of the 64-oz bucket) of lard (Wal-Mart, in the Shortening aisle) 10 cups chick starter (available at any feed store) 10 cups quick oats 5 cups yellow cornmeal 5 cups flour Measuring peanut butter and lard by the cup is a pain in the butt. Instead of measuring, I just use a bowl scraper to empty out a 40-oz jar of PB into a medium-sized mixing bowl. It takes up half the bowl. Then, I fill the rest of the bowl with lard. This saves a lot of time and mess in trying to stuff peanut butter and lard into a measuring cup. There's no way to do that without getting it all over you. Put the bowl in the microwave and melt the mix down (about 5 minutes on High). Stir it together. Have all the dry ingredients--chick starter, oats, cornmeal and flour--well blended in a lobster pot before pouring in the molten peanut butter/lard mixture. Stir well with your heaviest spoon, making sure you get down to the bottom. I finish by working it with my hands. I sit on the floor with the lobster pot between my knees and Zick Dough up to my elbows, but I will spare you a photo of that. The great thing about chick starter is it keeps the mix from getting so gummy and ensures a lovely texture to the final product. And it nourishes your birds. It's a win-win all around. Mmm, good enough to sample. And yes, I do. I like to make sure it tastes good. Disclaimer: Even New Zick Dough is too rich to be fed once the weather warms up. The birds will still beg, but please suspend feeding once it warms up and send them off to get the live insect protein they need. Here's Gouty, about three weeks after I suspended feeding Zick Dough. She's using both feet, and looks a lot better, no? The last thing I want to do is pretend I have the final answer here. Like life, the Zick Dough recipe is a work in progress. I'll be watching to see how my birds fare this spring, having had a winter's worth of New Zick Dough. If your birds are hooked on Zick Dough, please find a feed store and pick up some chick starter--one 20-pound bag should last you all winter--and mix up the new recipe. It's easier to mix, smells lovely, and offers better nutrition to the birds we all love so well. Thanks to Mary Ferracci for her photos and her friendship. And to Felicia Lovelett, for the chick starter idea. Answer my email, willya?


Of course! How brilliant.

I want to see a photo of you on the floor with the lobster pot between your knees and Zick Dough up to your elbows. I mix with my hands, too.

It's not your fault.

Because of you, I have Bluebirds who might nest here.

It's too warm for the old or new Zick Dough now, but I'm going to make a small batch of the new, improved dough to serve when nights are near freezing.

Mmmmm, I love that Titmouse photo. Wish it were mine.


Excellent! Since the boreal chickadees don't ground feed, is this new version able to hold up as a brick? With the old version I would take the warm mixture, spread it on baking sheets, let cool, then cut into squares that fit a suet feeder. What do you think?

Thanks for working this problem.

Yeah---me too. Picture of JZ on the floor up to elbows in Zick dough.
I haven't made Zick dough--not sure if could--I am too addicted to peanut butter. The thought of the smell of PB wafting through the kitchen sounds like more than my weak resolve could handle.

This year, while serving Zick dough,6 Bluebirds decided to stop by. Well I was thrilled!!! I've never had Bluebirds in my yard before. Julie I was singing your praises. They seemed to like the Zick dough better than the mealworms,that I also put in the platform feeder. Of course it was freezing out so the mealworms had hats and coats on....that's another story. I remember reading your blog about the gout. I'm so glad you came up with a new way to make it. All my Birds just love it.
I think Zick dough is so appealing to birds, because it's made with LOVE. You've got to love birds, to make that much of it at a time.
Thanks again, Julie for all your knowledge and love of life.

Hi Trixie,

I don't think this stuff would hold up as a block. One of the things I like about it is that it is crumblier than the old recipe so I don't have to bust up chunks and get my hands greasy--you can almost pour it from the jar once it's cool. You might need to mess with the recipe to get it to chunk up like that--less or no cornmeal might be a good place to start.
I plan to fiddle with the recipe some more so a greater proportion of it is chick starter. Who knows. Maybe you can just pout melted peanut butter on chick starter and get something they'd like just as well. I have the ideal focus group just ready and waiting outside the test kitchen.

What I love about this whole thing -- apart from the obvious part about healthier birds -- is that it is such an everyday, and clear, exposition of the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, modify as needed, repeat, and -- most of all -- share the information and go for repeatable results and consensus.

I mention the obvious only to put it in contrast with the conversation I had today with a "creation scientist." OMG!

It's nice to get back to people who think, instead of simply accepting conclusions, then bending the facts to fit them. Thanks for a late evening breath of sanity.

I'll have to try it--all the birds on my feeders seem to prefer Zick dough to commercial suet.

On another note I do not believe that the ingredients in the suet will cause gout in birds or amy other critter. Think about what causes gout in humans uric acid, birds should not produce higher levels of this acid on this diet--at least the birds here in ND have shown no signs of it.

Posted by Anonymous March 7, 2010 at 8:00 PM

I've been meaning to look it up and try it (I KNEW I could Google Zick Dough). But it's been spring here since Christmas, so I'll hold off till next year. One question: I'm not feeling real mathy tonight, but it looks like you made 8.5 buttloads of the stuff. Where do you keep what you don't put out?

@Rick: Gout is caused by an excess of purines in the diet. Lard is full of purines. My suspicion that I was seeing gout in my bluebirds was seconded by my avian veterinarian. My hypothesis is that birds can take the rich diet for part of the year as long as it's really cold (you're from ND, right?). But I still think it's a bad idea to feed this stuff--whether old recipe or improved-- year round,and I worry a lot about the birds I hear about who are hooked on it and being fed year-round, like in South Texas. Sure, it brings cool birds right in, but do we want to do that at the expense of their health?
@Murre: I just store it in big plastic jars at room temperature. That's less than a month's supply for me.
@Crackers: Thanks, man. See you at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I've been meaning to ask this for some time, and this is my inspiration to actually do so.

Is there anything else that can be substituted for the lard?

Posted by Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 4:08 AM

Wren, some people use Crisco with success. I made a batch and despite offering it for a number of days, had no takers. The birds would pick it up and drop it. I can't blame them--talk about empty calories. Makes me think of those awful sheet cakes...
I heard from a woman who offers a Crisco-based mix that she smears into bark. A pine warbler that's hooked on it is holding up its foot and sitting puffed out. Ugh.
I'm thinking more about phasing the lard out, skewing it toward peanut butter and chick starter. It's a work in progress.

Compelling argument; I will try it. Any advantage to supplementing W/ chick feed our sunflower seeds, or scattering handfuls like cracked corn on card days?

Soon, spring will come and there will be plenty of bugs for bat and bird alike!XOM.

Posted by Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 7:07 AM

Very interesting! The only birds that seem to gorge on the dough in my yard are the starlings, but I never put out enough that they eat it throughout the day. My mockingbird, Marcel, flys right over to me to take a pea size kernel, gulps it down, then flys off. He is a very disciplined eater.

I was actually wondering about calcium and thought about adding crushed egg shells to the dough but didn't know if it would harm anyone or not, so I've left it out.

Brilliant idea about the chick starter--even if it wasn't yours. Funny, I have chickens (though adults now and eating layer feed) and it never occurred to me to use their food to supplement the bird food. Only seems fair as every time I let my chickens out to range they run right to the bird feeders and scratch around underneath.... I will have to write this recipe down and prepare a mix for next winter. I didn't have any bluebirds come 'round this year and I miss them!

Oh hey--what about using whole wheat flour instead of white?

@Mimi: I think that naked chick starter would be an acquired taste for birds. It also would not hold up well when scattered on the ground, quickly absorbing moisture and perhaps becoming dangerous with mold. I'd try offering it in a weather-protected feeder first. Nice to think you could feed it to birds without having to get all gloppy up to your elbows.
@Marie: Using whole wheat flour gets a shrug from me. It's more expensive, and tends to get rancid faster than white flour. If you're using it fast enough it probably wouldn't present a problem. The function of flour in this recipe is as a binder rather than a primary nutrient. Whole wheat would probably act a bit differently from white flour, and my guess is it might take more of it to get a proper texture.
All this has got me thinking that there must be a way to simplify this recipe while making it more nutritious and less hazardous. Stay tuned.

Kind of like McDough for birds: Addictive and bad for you. Makes me think of David Kessler and his book about how the food industry has us all addicted to sugar, fat and salt.

The wonderful thing here is that you are observant, honest and conscientious enough to follow through, and work at finding a solution.

I wonder why you didn't reduce the lard in the recipe if it is the primary source or purines? Is it possible to just use the peanut butter as a fat source, or do you think the taste would be less appealing to the bird?
Even to go to a ratio or 3/4 peanut butter and 1/4 lard might be better. Also, I sometimes process oats in a food processor to make a coarse "oat flour", which might allow you to eliminate the white flour all together.

Posted by Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 7:46 PM

This was really interesting. I don't think too many people here in Texas feed suet, because it's too warm. So I didn't know how it was made, or the problems it can cause, but it makes sense.

I've had occasion to learn about gout lately because General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, who is a character in my new historical novel, suffered from gout, as did many early Americans of the more prosperous class. And the reasons were the same -- too much fat and ease. Supposedly, Wayne even died of gout.

Posted by Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 7:03 AM

Julie, I'm here as a first time commenter, long time joyful absorber of info, and it's this post of yours that has "tipped me over the edge" to finally comment!

Here in Austrlaia we have a similar problem feeding wildlife. Our magpies, mudarks and kookaburras will happily "adopt" a human family that will feed them mince(I think it's called ground beef in the US?).They will become so tame as to feed from your hand and bring their babies to you as well. (I know, it got to the stage that our house was staked out by all who were feathered).

Only problem is that mince is high in fat, but low on calcium - no bony bits or cartilage from insects, their natural diet. This leads to poor bone density and formation (esp. in chicks), and the tendancy to "put on a bit of pudding", a bit like your gouty birds.

The vets advise is to only feed birds with chicks once or twice a day, not on demand (several times a day!) as most people do, OR mix in a calcium/mineral supplement that a specialist wildlife sufflement company make. They also have formulas for the nectar feeding birds.

We also have a serious problem with marsupials and mammals (think kangaroos,wombats, wallabies etc) that have been orphaned and still require milk. Marsupial milk changes in it's composition as the joey grows, so different milk formualtions are required. You can now buy their stuff so easily at the local vet and keep an emergency stock at home. WOMBAROO is the company name and they have all sorts of tips and advice for native animal carers (as I was).

So after all that, well done on your New & Improved Formula!

Now it's back to the brushes for me -being a bird and naturalist artist myself.



How horrific all those spelling mistakes! That of course should read "Australia" and "supplements".
Any other mispellings I apologise for!



Cindy, I always expect some typos to be caused by sheer distance that the electrons must travel. Delighted to hear from you, and now that you've left two comments you'll have to leave more, right?

Your story is fascinating, because it is another example of a situation where people are overfeeding willing birds a diet that's bad for them. We'd never give a pet bird nothing but raw hamburger every day, yet we assume the wild birds are magically balancing their own diets. Wrong, it seems. Like kids, if you give them a chance to eat candy all day, that's exactly what they'll do. So it's up to us to make sure we're giving them something worth eating, AND limit the amount we give. Thanks so much!

I think I'll stick to mealworms, currants and peanuts for my bluebirds (and robins who share). No muss, no fuss, no nutritional worries. Just a lot of worm farming.

Yes I'm in North Dakota, I am wondering if Bluebirds are more susceptible to a physical response to too much fat. I usually have commercial suet out during the summer since it seem less susceptible to getting too soft. You are absolutely correct about the purines--it has been many years since biochemistry. I guess I'll have to re-think suet in the summer.

Posted by Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 7:06 PM

I know this post is about the New Improved Zick Dough, but when I see that Titmouse and Red-bellied pic, all I can think of is Ruby. Every time I see a female Red-bellied at my feeder, I think of her. So, despite her sad end (and gorgeous memorial post), she lives in the memory of even those who never met but loved her. And love her still.

Do you use natural peanut butter (without sugar) or the more common peanut butter with sugar? Do you think it matters? I'm anxious to try this recipe but probably don't have much more cold weather for it. But I won't complain about that! Thanks!

Susan, I use the cheapest stuff I can get, usually Wal-Mart store brand. I'm using a 40 oz. jar with each batch. I don't think it matters much, if at all. The original recipe for Peanut Butter Suet Dough calls for 1/2 cup sugar. I thought that was unnecessary so never used it.

I miss Ruby to this day. I miss Gouty, too. But such is the nature of friendships with wild things.

I read this posting and the feedback attentitively, as one of the hardest lessons we beginning bird folks have is how to feed. I have spent hours in the local specialty shop getting conflicting information about the pros and cons of suet, safflower, feeding schedules, etc. I used traditional Zick Dough this winter for the 1st time and I could not believe the variety of birds at my feeders in the wicked, freezing, snowy landscape. I still have Zick Dough out - even with temps approaching the 50s, because in my community (suburbia encroaching everywhere on wild spaces), I am concerned that there isn't enough native natural food to sustain.

I have the cutest titmouse ever who comes every day - and a very handsome chickadee and cardinals.

Off topic, but thanks for the lesson, all!

Good Science Chimp! This is an excellent conversation. I am looking at a package of National Audubon Society High Energy Suet (ingredients rendered beef suet, cracked corn, millet, sunflower seeds) and guessing it's lacking in calcium, perhaps other important nutrients. Here in Seattle, we have such mild winters that I only use it for rare cold snaps so my birds aren't using it for prolonged sustenance. But still . . . This sure stimulates me to think about what exactly I'm feeding and how it may mesh with the wild food sources available and utilized at the same time. Whew, complex thinking necessary. Thanks.

My suggestion for using the chick starter might be to blend it in a Cuisinart till it's powdered, then mix with melted peanut butter. I've done this with oatmeal when making my own bark butter. This would cut back or eliminate the need for cornmeal, and allow you to get a mix that could be molded. I use those square plastic tubs you put bulk olives in at the store.

One question - I go through about 1 zick dough block a day - what is too much for your birds? I've seen no problems with gout and do not think I've got any one bird overdosing on the stuff.

I've wondered about people feeding bluebirds mealworms in the summer. They are
very low in calcium and very high in phosphorus.
Altricial growing chicks have a very high calcium need and parents stuffing those easy tidbits down
gullets might not give the chicks a balanced diet. This rapid growth phase is the time birds are particularly susceptible to metabolic bone diseases from ca lack and rickets is another biggie.
Does anyone know about the merits of mealworms for birds?

As a kid I raised wild ducks and pheasants. Chick starter is not high enough in protein for fast growing waterfowl and gamebirds. Gamebird starter is around 30% protein. It also has more animal protein than chick starter does. It might be more nutritious for insectivore birds and might be worth a try in zick dough (or a mix of chick and gamebird).

Possumlady's idea about eggshells is good. I put them in homemade veggie mash for my parrots. I wash them out immediately then save them up. Before I use them I pour boiling water on them then microwave them. I crumble the shells as best I can and then pulverize them in a coffee grinder. I also grind up some human calcium for the vitamin D. The chick or gamebird starter probably have enough vitamin D. What about reducing the lard and adding some molasses as a binder. Although I would think you have to be careful with that too. Blackstrap has a lot of iron, and calcium and other minerals as well.

Hello! I found this information very interesting. New to this, was wondering if slathering peanut butter on a pinecone and rolling it in chick starter is healthy- or if there is a low fat alternative for Florida's warm weather. I really love mockingbirds and was hoping that this would attract them.

Posted by Anonymous May 3, 2010 at 6:51 AM

Maybe best to try a different brand of Chick Starter. There are some bad reviews on that brand.

Isn't the salt in regular peanut butter a problem?

Posted by Anonymous January 8, 2011 at 1:24 PM

I have bluebirds nesting every Spring/Summer but I've never been able to get them to eat. Even mealworms went by un-noticed. I'm going to try Zick Dough and see if I can persuade them to stick around more in the Winter too.

Excellent info. on the new and improved dough. I've been feeding the old version for many years and haven't noticed any gout problems but it might be due to how I offer it. I have an upside-down suet feeder. To get to the goods, birds have to cling upside-down and peck at the dough through a grid. (The purpose is to slow down any undesirables like grackles, starlings, and red-wings; they don't have the right kind of feet to cling upside-down for very long.) So ... I'm thinking that this feeder in and of itself makes it difficult to feed birds enough to result in gout. I mean, if their feet start bothering them they're going to stop eating the dough because they can no longer cling to get at it. In other words, it's a self-correcting issue with this feeder. At least I hope so.

As a result of this type feeder, the bluebirds here don't get any at all because I've never seen them try to feed upside-down. I suppose this is a good thing.

But I have already switched over to the new chick starter dough, just to be safe and to make it healthier. My woodpeckers, titmice, and nuthatches are definitely upside-down addicts. I will continue to tinker with the recipe so I can get it to the right consistency to keep it in block form for proper use in my feeder. And I will also remove the dough altogether come warm weather. They don't eat it all that much then anyway.

Again, thanks for the good info.!

Because I made bushels of the stuff and it has made me very popular with the local avian crowd:

Congratulations on finding a better recipe! But I have to wonder about your explanation for the problem with the original mix. I'm puzzled by your statement that lard is high in purines. Lard is essentially all fat, which does not include purines. I can't find any report of purines in lard. Where did you get that information? Whatever the explanation, you seem to have solved the problem.

Lard doesn't contain purines, meat organs do. Birds have high blood uric acid naturally, because of how they process it. Generally, birds don't get gout because of high purine diet (like people), it is because of kidney impairment-the kidneys can't rid the body of the uric acid. The lesions look like gout-I think Julie is correct there. The cause is probably underlying kidney issues exacerbated by the dough. Not only was the original recipe low in calcium, the peanut butter put it fairly high in phosphate. Calcium to phosphorous ration should be 2:1. High phosphorous causes calcium to be robbed from the bones and excreted through the kidneys. Kidney disease causes high blood phosphate levels, add a strict diet of low in calcium and high in phosphate adding to the kidney problems, and the resulting impaired kidneys won't excrete uric acid and it build up causing gout.

The severe mineral imbalance could have caused the kidney disease, but more likely it was an infectious agent like a virus, hyperthyroidism, or toxins (chemicals or mold toxins). If the birds continued on that diet metabolic bone disease would become an issue then.

Eliminate the dough and birds seem better because their diet no longer adds extra stress to their kidneys. The new diet works because the ca:ph ratio is better.

Lard is not a shelf stable product. The lard you buy at the grocery is hydrogenated to help keep it stable (and make it solid) and preservative are added too. I'm not sure it is all that good for birds-kidney suet would be better.

Don't go the other way either by eliminating the peanut butter from the improved dough and leaving all that added calcium. High calcium can cause kidney damage too.

That it was a problem in more than one bluebird, makes me wonder if a virus didn't sweep through the blue population in Julie's yard.

I keep the eggshells next to the stove in a large open-mouth container, they dry out in a day or so. Then I put a handful in a plastic bag & run a rolling pin over them several times, then smoosh them still further with a hammer. You could use a blender, though... add some of this eggshell flour for calcium, & for a healthier fat binder, try a very little corn oil as well as the suet

In an effort to use what I had on hand, I used vegetable shortening instead of lard and for calcium/minerals, I used feed grade diatomaceous earth instead of the chick starter and left out the flour. The resulting dough looks like dirt clods but the birds don't seem to mind. The dough is always gone before the nearby seeds are.

Indeed, This is brilliant of birds photo. Wish to have one!

Chick starter feed does not contain calcium at all as their systems cannot handle it until they are around 18 weeks of age. I have fed my chicks adult layer feed at 16 weeks without a problem. The started feed does have about 20% protein. The grower feed has slightly less protein and still no calcium. Adult layer feed does have both.

Ah, the post that keeps on giving. Time to mix another batch before the "Arctic vortex" hits tomorrow. (maybe I should write down the recipe.)

I just got done making my batch of Julie's Zich! This is my second year using this recipe, and the birds love it! They love iit so much that my dad and I call it "bird crack"! LOL!

I live on a fresh water lake in NJ that is right up against the beginning of the Pinelands, so I got water and Forrest birds. I am hoping to get Blue Birds this year. This is my second year with boxes up but no blues yet. Not sure if the lake would affect them coming?

I did have a question Julie, how high do you have your blue houses? I have read 6-8 ft was perfect, but wondering if they are still too low.

I hope your adjusted recipe has reached more of the people who still use the old recipe.

Happy New Year! Christy

@bassbonechick, please call 1-800-TRY-BIRD and order my booklet, Enjoying Bluebirds More. It'll cost you about $5, and has all the information on properly mounting your bluebird boxes. 6-8' is too high, because you can't see into them to monitor them. The boxes must be baffled against predators and pole-mounted, not tree-mounted. You'll find easy instructions for making your own predator-proof baffles, siting and mounting the boxes in that little booklet.

Here you go, bassbonechick.

The booklet has an address where you can order great Gilbertson style birchbark PVC sparrow-resisitant boxes from an Amish gentleman named Merlin Lehman. No online orders tho for obvious reasons.

This the first time i have ever had birds eat suet. I am on my second batch The Junco are standing in like to feed of your improved dough. Yellow-rump warblers Norther Flicker even house sparrows are eating from the dough i smear on tree limbs near the kitchen window. They were a little timid when I switched to the improved formula. Bluebird Bob

Posted by robertwilson February 5, 2014 at 8:27 AM

In your article, you warn us not to use Chick Starter with antibiotics so they do not build up resistance. However, you use Walmart's lard, rendered from pigs who have been fed high levels of antibiotics. After eaten, that is where it is stored in the body. Just be aware that lard contains, like meat, a high quantity of antibiotics and growth hormones and steroids.

Posted by Anonymous March 14, 2014 at 7:43 AM

I use the old recipe but substitute Vegetable shortening and add some sugar. Of the strangest eaters of this must be a RT hummingbird. It got on the ground under the feeder above and picked at small bits.

Thank you so much! My family and I made your recipe and put it out on a platform feeder and it was a hit instantly! Worked better than any seed, suet, or mix we have tried!We have never had so many birds at our feeders! So grateful to you for posting this. We are constantly making more. Thank you thank you thank you!!! <3

isn't most lard hydrogenated? wondering how good that can be for birds.......

Considering the known damage to humans' health by wheat and sugar I would make sure not to put either in the dough. I also shun microwaves so would not use them in bird food either. I figure what's bad for 2-legged walkers cannot be healthful for 2-legged fliers!
I just made a batch of dough and am grateful for the new recipe. Used organic almond flour, millet, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, organic corn meal (no GMO's for my birdies!) in a base of peanut butter and venison suet.

Feeding any wild bird should be done as treats. Not as their entire food source. Was this bird a rehab, that would be my guess. This is a good reason to take feeders down mid summer. If there are not enough wild and natural insects in a habitat/landscape, we should not be inviting birds to breed there with boxes and human-sourced foods. Mealworms too will cause MBD, deformities, fractures, and egg-binding in birds when fed in copious amounts and not correctly or adequately supplemented. In rehab, we must supplement as all of our insects and most human-sourced foods are nutritionally deficient. Also, encouraging a bird to breed 3 nests of babies in a summer is a death sentence for that bird. It take a lot of calcium and nutrition out of a female to lay/raise babies. All calcium comes out of their bones. Yes, they eat some, but the bodies sucks it out of bones, like us. Suet is only safe for feeding when it is true suet - not low melt point fats (that eliminates all beef fats except suet, which is the hard, dry, crumbly fat of the groin. With true suet, you need nowhere near all the nutritionally poor fillers like flours. When birds get fats in their feet, it winds up getting preened into their feathers - that kills their weatherproofing. Greasy birds, are dead birds. Beef suet, some peanut butter, a bit of fine oatmeal or corn flour, no sugar, some millet or peanut chunks...Fed in moderation. Rarely in summer, until fall migrants show up. Suet is never fed to babies in nature...ever. Birds doing that do not have the insects and should not be encouraged to breed in that habitat. Permitted and licensed avian rehabilitator. Never use chick is meant for grain eating birds, not insectivores like bluebirds and most of our feeder birds, and certainly never for babies.

Hello, Has anyone rolled them into little nuggets and how would you store a big batch. Freezer bags. I would think if they were packed in a container and left in the closet they might go rancid. Thoughts please, Janice

What about adding freeze-dried larvae? I've been adding them to my sunflower seeds and the nuthatches seem to love it! But would they stand up in the dough?

Hi, just found your blog. I love my birds, well and raccoons , squirrels and bears if I were lucky enough to have them.
I live in San Francisco Bay Area. Only feed peanuts unsalted and roasted to my guys. Also give water. It doesn’t often get really cold here but wondering about occasionally feeding Zick dough but without the lard. Is anyone doing this? Depending on the season I’ve got house and lesser goldfinches, yellow rumps, mockingbirds, scrub jays, crows, titmice, occasionally gulls, golden crowned and white crowned sparrows just to name a few....
thank you!

Hi there Unknown Oct 16 2020,! and Judi VE.

I get a few comments from people unwilling to use lard. I did make a batch of Zick Dough this summer for an injured wild blue jay I was caring for who wouldn't eat ANYTHING.So I made Zick Dough out of desperation, and it was a hit. I didn't think lard would be a good idea for him since he was caged and not expending much energy. So I made it with chick starter, quick oats, flour, extra peanut butter and no lard. So you can try it, but I'll tell you it doesn't hang together as well as it does with lard.

Judi VE, you could probably get away with adding freeze-dried mealworms, as long as the stuff was going to be eaten soon. I don't know that it would store very well with insects in it, freeze dried or not. Not sure what you mean by "larvae."

Hi Julie, I love this thread! It is rare for me to read all comments to a post but, it is all quite interesting. My question is, what is the warmest average temperature that the Zick Dough will stay good at? I live in Georgia, where winter days range on an average from 49 degrees to 69 degrees. Thank you for the information and recipe!

@vric, one of the great things about Zick Dough is it hangs together even in quite hot weather. It's not going to melt and it's not going to mat the face feathers of birds who feed it to their young. THAT SAID, it should not be fed in summer--only when weather is cold and insects aren't readily available. Thanks for asking!


I may try the recipe, because it sounds good. Poor bluebird was probably late-stage Zick Dependent and jonesing (sic) bad. There was a rumbling around the yard that you might experiment with Stevia, and some of the birds packed their little duds and left...
Lucia Weinroth

What about adding UnRuffledRx Bird Calcium Supplement with Magnesium +D3 - Calcium Supplement for Birds to the dough ?

A decade plus later and this recipe and blog post still going strong. I am making a batch today and since I have a flock of rescued parrots instead of the chick starter I'm using Harrison's Adult Lifetime crumble parrot food. It's organic and formulated for parrots. Expensive but I know that it's a very good food with all of the nutrition my parrots need to thrive. Thanks Julie.

[Back to Top]