How to make your backyard bird feeder irresistible

I seem to have struck a chord with last week’s column about feeding birds. It surprised me. Birding is obviously a big, big hobby and feeding birds is the easiest way to be a birder. Ah, still, readers let me know I most definitely did not cover the subject enough. So, let me add just a few things in a second column on the subject.

First, reader Nate Dias sent in a great recipe for a suet or peanut butter substitute which he got from his mother, who got it from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: “Start by slightly melting chunky peanut butter in a microwave, mix in lard (1 part peanut butter to 4 parts lard), then mixing in some all purpose flour, masa (Mexican cornmeal though regular cornmeal is OK if you can’t find masa), and/or oatmeal.”

“The mixing is a bit of work if done by hand, but not bad. Shape the mixture into palm-sized cylinders or little patties, place them on a cookie sheet and then freeze them. You can keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. When the patties are frozen, it seems easier for little birds to peck apart than regular lard. Crunch peanut butter has less salt.”

[Should feeding birds be part of your winter home and yard routine?]

Next, do you want to see birds eating from your feeders, but work out of the home during the daylight hours? You are like most folks which is why a bird-activated cam can record the action for you.

I remember when the first of these came out. Times have really changed. Now there are many. Enter “bird feeder cam” into a search engine and see what is out there, at least. Don’t forget that you can buy some of these locally, which is always a better option. Anyhow, some not only record what is happening when you are away, but also allow you to use them for live, close-ups of birds using your feeder. Best spot for a feeder not near a window? Get a bird cam for it.

Wow, you can even get acoustical recorders that you can place on your feeder and capture the sounds of your birds happily munching away, for example. What a world we live in.


I also failed to mention the annual Christmas Audubon Bird Count. This is a long-running, national effort you can join by following instructions found at There are several local counts. Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kodiak and Juneau each usually have one so you can check out your local bird group using your search engine.

A few people wanted to know about supplying water to help attract birds. We have all seen birds at a birdbath. Well, apparently, birds can get all the drink they need from snow, but there are a number of heaters home owners can buy to provide liquid water. No longer must you use a water heater designed to keep cow and horse troughs thawed. Wow, big change. Well, there are some nifty heater/baths designed for songbirds. Some of these are battery operated, as are the cameras.

Oops, I didn’t mention how to know what birds you are attracting to your feeders! Robert Armstrong’s “Guide to The Birds Of Alaska” is the classic ID book and will help the serious Alaska birder. It is also a great holiday gift for the hiker-bird watcher.

Of course, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is a useful resource to bookmark. In particular is a program called Wings of Alaska. Check it out. There is a wealth of information including a bird-watching check list.

Finally, a good question about using thistle in feeders. Canadian thistle is a hard-to-eradicate weed. That is not what this this is. What you are using is a self-seeding annual and I can’t find any info that it is invasive. I did find lots of instructions on how to germinate and grow your own however.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Brighter Winter Nights at The Alaska Botanical Garden: Wow! An exciting and beautiful winter walk among botanical-themed light displays, ice luminaries, fire pits to warm up by, a kick-sled trail, and model train. Nov. 27-Jan. 21. Presented by ConocoPhillips Alaska. Purchase tickets at

Poinsettias: They will be here soon!

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.