Pine cones make a useful base for bird food. A quick bird treat can be made by filling a pine cone with fat- and energy-rich peanut butter, a particularly good food in winter. Smear it over the pine cone, pushing it into all the gaps.
Choose a good-quality bird seed mix, since cheaper ones can occasionally be bulked up with split peas, dried rice or lentils (only good for larger species), or even dog biscuits. Make a pile on a flat surface.
Roll the peanut-butter-covered pine cone in the seed mix, making sure there is no peanut butter left showing when you have finished. You can also press seed into the cone with your fingers to fill all the spaces.
Suspend the cones from a length of raffia, string or any other cord you have on hand, and hang it between branches of a tree or sturdy shrub, or between two upright posts of a pergola. Squirrels will probably enjoy this too!
Bird food cakes are also easy to make. Slowly melt a pack of suet or lard in a saucepan and stir in some wild bird food mix. You can also add dried fruit, nuts or oatmeal.
Make a hole in the bottom of some empty yogurt (or similar) pots. Thread through a length of string and then fill each pot with the suet mixture. Leave in a fridge until cool and set.
Gently ease the cake from the container. If it doesn’t come out easily, stand the container in a bowl of warm water so that the suet melts slightly. Alternatively, you can let the birds eat the cake from the container.
The suet in bird cakes makes them quite slippery. After the cake has set, tie a knot at the bottom to stop it from slipping off. A small twig tied into the knot will make it extra-secure when you hang it.
For fruit and nut chains, thread a mixture of dried fruit and peanuts onto lengths of string using a needle with a large eye and a sharp point. Some peanuts contain a toxin that can kill birds, so buy from a reputable dealer.
Dried or fresh apple rings look attractive and are sought after by robins, thrushes and wrens. Core and slice an apple, then tie together to create a chain. This is a good use for windfalls that have slightly gone over.
To put all of the bird treats together in a bird food garland, choose a spot with two sturdy branches with a gap between them and firmly attach a piece of raffia. Make sure it is not close to the ground. Tie the treats to the raffia, then sit back and wait for the birds to discover them. At Christmas, this would make a festive decoration for a large conifer, giving the birds a bit of pampering at a tough time of year.