Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Baking for the Birds this Fall and Winter

It's not that I discriminate against pigeons. In fact, I actively toss tidbits their way - they're birds, too! But I really, really dislike them turning up with all of their buddies and swarming my balcony. They leave a huge mess of feathers and big droppings everytime - not the tidiest of guests to be sure.
Suspended Birdseed Cookies

I wanted to build a bird feeder for the small, perching birds that live in the alley, but couldn't find or make one I thought looked good enough for the price range I'd need (pretty much free!). So I got to thinking - what about birdseed cookies?

Every Christmas I fantasize about having a tree decorated only with edibles: strings of popcorn and cranberries; slices of dried citrus fruits; candied rose petal and pansy ornaments; apple slices cut along the equator to show the 'star' shaped seed chambers; and, of course, a variety of cookies hanging from ribbons. It's been a daydream of mine for years to buy a living tree in a pot or rootball and to have me and my family decorate it with food that can be given as a gift post-holidays to the chickadees and sparrows over-wintering in the yard. I figure it will make 'take-down' far more enjoyable than boxing up tired old ornaments.
The Construction Process

In the meantime, however, I'll have to be content with a string of birdseed cookies hanging from a hook above my balcony. I hope that the pigeons will settle for the parts of cookies that fall to the ground, leaving the feast to the little guys who will be able to perch.

The harvest might be in full swing at the moment, but it won't be long before the barren months of winter are here and the birds are desperate for some calories. I've made up a recipe that is based on one available on eHow - their recipe (link here) fell a little flat and was very dry, so I have made several amendments and feel alright about sharing my version here.

Birdseed Cookies (for the birds!)

2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup of peanut butter, butter or shortening (or mixture of all/any)
2 whole eggs (really whole - shells and all!)
1/2 cup birdseed (amend with stale nuts/raisins/flax/barley/millet/oats)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp (give or take - to correct for a dry mixture) of applesauce, fruit juice and/or water

Stir together flour, sugar and baking powder.

You could also sift it if you're a perfectionist.
Cut in fat (peanut butter, butter and/or shortening).
Peanut butter (chunky) and the remnants of a stick of butter.

Break in the eggs and include the shells.
Those eggshells make kneading kind of ouchie.

Add honey and stir until combined. Stir or knead (ouch - eggshells!) in the birdseed and nuts/baking leftovers.
I had some stale pepitas to use up, too!

Amend the mixture with applesauce, fruit juice or a little water if it is not moist enough to be packed into a ball and later rolled out with a rolling pin.
If you can't form a ball (crumbles), amend it with some wet stuff.

Cover ball of dough with a damp towel and refrigerate overnight or for 4 or more hours.
Keep it damp in the fridge overnight. You don't need to use plastic wrap! Bad habit!

Preheat the oven to 325 F. On a floured surface, roll out a portion of your dough with a rolling pin (approx. 1 cm or 1/2" thick) and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters or the rim of a mug or drinking glass.
Roll to the usual sugar cookie thickness.

Make a hole in the 'top' of the cookie with a straw or other implement (can use a chopstick to punch a hole through). Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for approximately 12 minutes (check on them at 9 or 10 minutes) until they are hard and fully baked.
Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool (cookie racks work best).
Where did I get the tiny flower cutters? YokoYaYa of course!

When cool (and not before!) string the cookies on a length of twine or yarn.
It's a little fussy threading the twine through.

You can hang several in a row (vertically or horizontally) by knotting each cookie in place before threading on a new one, or you can hang individual cookies from their own strands of yarn. Try to hang them out of the rain if possible, under an overhang or within the branches of a substantial tree.

The vertical arrangement option, hanging from a nail.
That's it! A cheap alternative to a bird feeder that looks good, biodegrades, and costs very little. It's also a nice way to connect with the local wildlife and let them know that you're grateful they stuck around despite the destruction of their habitats. And if you can't have pets, it's the next best thing.
The little cookies were available for the crows and pigeons. They didn't last long!


  1. Love your photos! The tones are so crisp and lovely :)

  2. Thanks A'son! I have a crappy little Samsung S630 and I do editing/corrections with the default Microsoft Office picture manager imaging software! :) Gotta love the 'adjust midtones only' feature, and "Auto Correct" helps probably 6 or 7 times out of 10. :)

  3. Update: The cookies are getting a little soggy. Hmmm. Sparrows needed help busting up the star cookie I left on the deck for training purposes, so we'll see if the strands serve any purpose at all other than decorative.... :S Probably better in tree branches than free-dangling from a balcony overhang.