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Feeding Birds in Winter

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Teenaged Ati Gropius made this drawing of her mother, still in her nightgown and "booted and furred against snow & howling winds," making an early morning sortie to fill the bird feeder.

Walter and Ise Gropius loved to watch the many birds that came to the feeders around their house in the countryside of Lincoln, Massachusetts. Mrs. Gropius boasted that she "knew more than a hundred and twenty birds personally." She put out a birdhouse to attract bluebirds, her favorite, and was also especially fond of evening grosbeaks, cardinals, hummingbirds, and pheasants. Her daughter, Ati, recalls that "every winter before breakfast, in nightgown, bathrobe and fur jacket [my mother] sailed out to the garden to distribute bird seed, suet, peanut butter, and cracked corn." Suet, which is beef or mutton fat, gives an extra boost to birds' ability to withstand the cold.

 

Making a suet feeder like the one at the Gropiuses' house is easy. You will need the following tools and materials:

  • a hammer, wire cutters, pliers, drill
  • a pine board approximately 5-3/4" x 12" x 3/4"
  • a piece of hardware cloth, approximately 12" x 8"
  • galvanized nails

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Directions:

  1. Drill a hole through the top of the board, about 1" from the top.
  2. Make a right-angle bend along the long side of the hardware cloth approximately 2-1/2" from the edge. Center the bent edge over the bottom end of the board, and nail it to the board's bottom edge.
  3. Bend the sides of the hardware cloth around the board, making a wire cage, open at the top, projecting about 2" from the board.
  4. Nail the sides of the cage into the side edges of the board. Trim any sharp edges with wire cutters.
  5. Insert a wire into the hole at the top of the board and hang the feeder outdoors where you can see it. The ideal location would be near an evergreen tree or shrub, where birds can take shelter from predators. Put a piece of suet or a suet cake studded with seeds into the cage. Enjoy the winter birds, like woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches, attracted to your feeder.

    -Gail White
    School Programs Coordinator, Bowen House

    Feeding Birds in Winter