THE RECIPE BOX - Share Christmas spirit with feathered friends this season

THE RECIPE BOX - Share Christmas spirit with feathered friends this season

SMITHFIELD – This week’s recipes are for the birds – really!

I enjoy my backyard bird feeder that once belonged to my dad. Since he passed away, as a way of honoring him, my husband, Jim, took on the task of filling the feeder with seed. This is an everyday job, but it’s so rewarding.

A visit to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge to speak with Kim Calcagno, refuge manager, taught me a few things I did not know. The facility is right up the street from the Apple Valley corner in Greenville and is very easy to find.

As I looked around, I felt that this was indeed a place I would like to visit as a “tourist” in some other state, yet here in Rhode Island, right under my nose, I have passed by hundreds of times and never stopped in.

There are more than 100 refuges in our state and the Audubon Society is the largest landowner in Rhode Island, about 10,000 acres, said Kim Calcago.

She grew up in Massachusetts and began volunteering at a nature center at the age of 13. She attended Tufts University for her undergraduate education and obtained her master’s degree at Antioch University New England.

As refuge manager, on any particular day she might be wielding a chainsaw to clear trees on a trail, feeding the owls, eagles, falcons and hawks that are part of the raptor program, teaching a group of children or attending a land management meeting.

Kim does a little bit of everything to enforce and encourage the three-pronged mission of the Audubon Society: conservation, education and advocacy.

She has always had the belief in conservation and said that as a nonprofit they do not have the same resources that a big corporation has, but with the efforts of many, many volunteers statewide they accomplish what they do.

Since backyard birding has become a very popular pastime, Kim shared some “do’s and dont’s” for feeding the birds in your neck of the woods.

• First there’s the myth that “once you start feeding them you must continue or the birds suffer.” Not true says Kim.

“Birds have been feeding themselves for a million years.” If you need to go on a two-week vacation they’ll be just fine. They are foragers. If one food source dries up, they move on to another. She said only about 25 percent of their diet actually comes from a feeder; the rest they find in nature. Bottom line is, if you do it (feed the birds) and you enjoy it, just do it when you can.

• Do make sure your feeder is in an area where the birds can find security in a row of bushes or shrubs so they can quickly escape and hide if exposed to a predator. “They need to feel safe,” Kim said.

Despite popular belief, birds really do better with seed, nuts, fruits or berries. “Bread and crackers – or anything that has been cooked – is harder for birds to digest,” she said.

• Another tip is to clean your bird feeders, especially at the start of a new season. “If they’ve gotten wet inside, mold can grow and that’s not good for them.” Also as far as seed goes, “You get what you pay for.” A better quality seed will attract birds and keep them coming back.

• Black oil sunflower seed is great for attracting blue jays and cardinals, suet is great for woodpeckers and a thistle feeder with a better brand seed such as Niger or Nyjar will find you hosting finches, chickadees, nuthatchers and more.

Of course anytime you put out seed or suet you should be prepared for other creatures to want to visit. “Squirrels and even some rodents will find the seed as well,” she said. But they are living creatures too.

• Try to place nesting boxes (birdhouses) away from a feeder source as birds in the expectant parent stage like to have their security and privacy.

• And one last tip is to provide a water source for birds, especially in the cold winter months. “There are even battery operated heaters to make sure water in a bird bath does not freeze,” Kim said.

These ideas for bird-feeding recipes are a great way to have some family fun with children while teaching them at a young age to be good stewards of our earth.

Take a walk in the woods together to find twigs and berries and pinecones. If the pinecones are closed up tight, you can force them to open up by placing them in a 300-degree oven for a few minutes. They’ll open and allow space to fill with the peanut butter or vegetable shortening.

Another idea Kim had is to build a snowman (of course we need snow first) and then have the children create a string necklace of cranberries for it. A carrot will likely get eaten by another type of critter, but that does not bother her at all.

Or take a silicone mold (like the ones in special shapes used for ice cubes) then heat some vegetable shortening on the stove in a double boiler. Meanwhile have the children fill the cube trays with dried bits of fruit, berries or nuts and then place a string into the center.

An adult can pour the melted liquid into the trays and then place it in the freezer for a short while to harden. Now you have some ornaments ready to hang on the outdoor trees.

All of these ideas are simple enough to make and the rewards are many. Remember the golden rule said Kim: “Treat others the way you want to be treated, and that includes our animals.” We are not the only species on the earth and we have a lot of influence, she added.


A wreath-making class will be held at Powder Mill Ledges open to the public on Saturday, Dec. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, at 12 Sanderson Road, Greenville.

The cost for members of the Audubon Society is $30; $35 for non-members. You will leave with your own beautiful handmade project fit to hang inside your home for the season or geared toward placing outdoors to feed the birds. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holiday season with a relative or friend. To register for the class go to

Pinecone Bird Feeder

You Will Need:

A few medium to large pinecones

String or pipe cleaners

1/2 cup peanut butter or vegetable shortening (per pinecone)

Bird seed mix


Fasten a string around the base of a pinecone.

With a spoon, spread the peanut butter (or use vegetable shortening such as Crisco if there are allergies to nuts). Press into all the nooks and crannies of the pinecone using a spoon.

Roll the covered cone into the seed pressing down lightly, until completely covered with seed.

Hang outdoors on a tree and wait to enjoy the visiting birds.

Decorate a tree for the outdoors.

Save your live Christmas tree to continue feeding the birds after the holidays.

Remove all plastic, glass, painted and wire ornaments.

Place the tree outside and decorate with any of the following:

• strings of popcorn or cranberries

• apple slices

• strung cereal such as Cheerios

• pinecone bird feeders

KIM CALCAGNO, refuge manager of the Rhode Island Audubon Society’s Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge in Smithfield, displays some winterberry to be used in a wreath-making class on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Powder Mill Ledges site, 12 Sanderson Road. (Breeze photo by Rhonda Hanson)
Many things found in nature such as pinecones, berries and sliced fruits – dried at a low temperature in an oven – can be used to feed the birds.

Pinecone Bird Feeder