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LuckyGuy's avatar

What is the best, calorie-rich food for birds in cold climates?

Asked by LuckyGuy (29420 points ) January 2nd, 2013

I put out bird seed every day and wondered if there is something better suited for birds in severe weather.
In winter, I occasionally mix bacon fat grease and seed to make suet but want to improve on that. Knowing that a Junior Mint is 10 calories and made of mostly sugar, chocolate and corn syrup, would that be a good addition?

We are entering the month of January in Western NY. Often the temperature here will never get above freezing for the entire month. It is -5C right now. The birds in the area are a mix of: blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, pine siskin, mourning doves, etc. As I type this, I can see chickadees flying down to the feeder, and returning to the nearby tree to eat a seed. The energy expended in this cold weather must be tremendous. Every year there are die-offs due to this poor energy trade.
Ignoring the cost (Junior Mint are many times more expensive than shelled sunflower seeds) would a few Junior Mints mixed into the food for the larger birds be helpful?
I usually put out ~1 kg, 2 pounds, of seed a day. Would 100 grams of JM be a healthy addition?
I am hoping a biologist/nutritionist can tell me if this would help or hurt.

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22 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Peanut butter and/or suet.
A great blend is to mix PB with cornmeal into a dough, not too sticky and not too crumbly and pack it into a small log with drilled out one inch holes and hang it from a tree.
You can also stuff the mixture into pine cones.
All woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Titmice, Creepers, etc. will go nuts for it!

zenvelo's avatar

Don’t give candies to animals or birds. Their digestion is not the same as ours.

My mother used to make a bag of suet from leftover beef fat, tied up in a washrag made of netting.

Go to a local bird shop and ask them what is best. But remember, placing food sources in areas where birds are supposed to leave for the winter can harm the species. Those die-offs are because those birds are supposed to be down south, not in Western NY.

marinelife's avatar

Stick with your suet.

Add peanuts or peanut butter.

Use black-oil sunflower seeds. Nyger seeds are good for pine siskins.

You can add chopped fruit or dried fruit to suet. Birds like fruit.

syz's avatar

I don’t have any hard data, but I would avoid adding sugar to the mix (although commercially prepared peanut butter certainly has tons of sugar). Fats actually have a tremendous amount of calories available, and is probably your best bet. Carbohydrate calories must be converted to triglycerides before they can be stored as body fat. This process requires over 25% of the energy stored in the food. Fat only takes about 3% of the energy in it to process it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The thought came to mind because I was given many pounds of expired Junior mints. I will not eat them and can easily throw them away, but I hate wasting food. I read someplace that the average calorie consumption for a small hawk was ~40 calories per day or 0.3 calories per gram A chickadee weighs about 10 g but is smaller so I figured the calories per gram needs to go up . If it is 0.6 cal per gram the chickadee needs 6 calories per day. One Junior mint at 10 calories is the perfect size. Unless it is toxic.- of course.

zenvelo's avatar

@LuckyGuy If an expired Junior Mint is not good for you, then don’t give it to an animal or bird that can’t read the date. Why won’t you eat them? Junior Mints are so processed they don;t go bad immediately after the sell by date.

syz's avatar

Ahh, I see. I do find quite a few references to chocolate being a possible toxin for birds. Kudos for thinking outside of the box (no pun intended), but I think your best bet is to compost them (or make a whole helluva lot of trail mix and give it away as gifts).

LuckyGuy's avatar

@zenvelo They are not toxic or anything. It’s just that I will not eat that many Junior mints in my lifetime. I would rather spend my 2200 calorie food budget on a better blend of fruits, meats, grains, vegetables, cheese, wine and Whitman samplers.
If I was extremely active and shoveling snow by hand outdoors in the freezing weather I could see adding them to my diet.

@syz I did not know that chocolate was a possible toxin for birds. It is probably best to avoid. to be fair, the chocolate is actually a small part of the candy. The inside is made from corn syrup, starch, peppermint oil. That seems like processed plants to me.

Coloma's avatar

I used to participate in Cornell universities “Project feeder watch” for years. Collecting data on winter migratory species and local year ‘round populations. I never had an issue using natural peanut butter, with low sugar content. I DID have an outbreak of Avian Pox that wiped out the Pine Siskins and had to drop the project and stop feeding and bleach and replace all my feeders that were infected. Obviously candy is not a good choice for feeding, although I do give me leftover fruit pies to the raccoons and they are grateful. haha

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I put out a mix of different seeds and let the birds decide what they want. I have a seed and corn mix I add a lot of black oil sunflower seeds, plus thistle seeds, peanuts, suet with fruit and seed in it, and the Pennington mixed seed blocks. The blocks aren’t cheap but the birds love them. I’d be concerned about the Jr Mints not agreeing with the birds.

Coloma's avatar

Since I feed my geese a mix of lay crumble feed and scratch grains I have tons of birds, Juncos, Towhees, Doves, various Sparrow species etc. free feeding at the goose feeding station. Not to mention the damn wild turkeys.
The Towhees come into my garage and clean up the spilled feed beneath the big container I keep it in too.
You can buy a bag of scratch grains, 50# for about $13—$14.99 and it is a combo of crushed corn,wheat, barley, red millet, etc.

The birds love it and if you mix in extra sunflower seed, so much the better.
I joke that all the songbirds that are seed eaters on this mountain raise their young on lay crumbles. Extra calcium for extra hard shells. haha

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LuckyGuy's avatar

Yesterday I saw Blue Jays eating dog food pellets: Sportmix 26% protein / 18% fat.
Those jays are not dumb!

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy No they are not. I have Scrub Jays and Stellars Jays and they will pilfer an entire bowl of cat food in about an hour if I leave any outside. ” Taste of the Wild”...apparently so. lol

LuckyGuy's avatar

Right now it is -4C out 25F. The ground is covered with over a foot of snow.
The Blue Jays are still eating the dog food while the cardinals and chickadees are eating seeds. We know which family is the smart one.

I have plenty of room out there so I will run an experiment. I’ll put a few pieces of hardy backer board out on top of the snow and put different food on each: usual bird food mix, whole corn, dog food, black oil sunflower seed, and a shmutz pile of bacon fat that I have been keeping in the freezer for months.

If I can get some help I’ll even set up a Stealth Cam to see who or what comes by. I’m a little leery of using the ladder under these conditions. If I fell and hurt myself out there nobody would find me until the snow melted and the pack of coyote spread my clothes around..
(I will be carrying a concealed weapon, by the way.)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@LuckyGuy Can I make one suggestion: Use cracked corn in place of the whole corn. Unless you’re trying to draw wild turkeys. I’d be interested in hearing how the experiment goes.

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy Yes, 25F here too. Brrr. The scratch grains or cracked corn is a very high cal. feed for cold weather. “They” suggest loading up poultry and waterfowl on the corn at night in cold weather. This has been a 15 year joke with my geese…” corn before bed unless you are dead.” The extra carbs and calories generate more body heat, same with horses, feeding “hot” feeds in very cold weather for extra warmth.

The opposite is true in hot weather, no “hot” feed, or minimal, too much corn can cause waterfowl explosions and with horses it is the old “feelin’ your oats” saying…unless the animal is being worked very hard you’re going to be a rodeo rider. All that energy goes into feeling extra frisky and full of buck. lol

LuckyGuy's avatar

I survived the camera installation. It is all set up: 4 frames per activation, 2 seconds apart, full IR night vision flash enabled, 1 minute pause between activations. I was too lazy to carry the hardy backer out there. It was too heavy and I was whipped from walking in the snow. I just flattened the snow out with my boots and put a frying pan of dog food, and rubber dog dish for corn. the bird seed is on the log . Now we’ll see which bird liked which food. and which critter eats it what they don’t get.

@Adirondackwannabe Unfortunately, I don’t have cracked corn in stock and I’ll be damned if I am going to run it through the coffee grinder. (I think that would be grounds.)

@Coloma Yep. Horse caloric intake varies by activity – just like humans. A real active horse might need 20,000 calories per day. A sedentary critter on a warm day can be as low as 7,500. All living things are thermodynamic engines.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I just took the SD card out of the camera and looked. There were 192 pictures of… deer, deer and more deer and a cat.

Coloma's avatar

Awww…..yaq gotta feed the poor kitty in the snow! Fancy Feast on the tundra asap!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@LuckyGuy At least you didn’t get any turkeys. They shit like geese. (Sorry Coloma)

Coloma's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Haha…no offense taken, yes, waterfowl defecate on average, every 8 minutes. Simple digestive tracts, in & out, but hey…at least they are cute and intelligent compared to ugly and stupid. lol

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