Introduction: Hanging Wild Bird Treat - a Different Kind of Seed Bead

About: I am a former zookeeper. One thing you may not know, zookeepers often have to make their own specialized tools, enclosures and supplies. It's just part of the job, because there aren't really any box stores …
You can save money by creating your own hanging treats, instead of purchasing preformed bells or biscuits.

Conversely, you can spend a ton of money spoiling your wild animal friends.  You can attract a lot of wild bird company by hanging out a customized treat.  They are shamelessly friendly to those who feed them, much like those people who only come to your parties when there is free food & booze.

Basically, you get a bunch of your animals' favorite treats and stick them together onto a rope, to form a bead-like hanging treat.

What you need:

Wild Bird Food (Seeds, Nuts, Corn, Whatever)
Plastic Wrap!
Committed counter Space (it takes a day or two for the treats to dry completely)

I made a big mix of food, including small seeds for the nuthatches, finches, and chickadees on my property, combined with corn and peanuts for the chipmunks and squirrels, and I also added large nuts for the Steller's jays, woodpeckers, and our lone raven. The jays or the woodpeckers tear apart the treats and the smaller birds and mammals pick up the bits they like from the ground beneath. The raven hides behind the bushes and only comes out for his favorite tidbits.

Note:  I used a soft rope for these treats, which worked fine at first, but the squirrels have started chewing it up.  I will be making future treats with a tougher rope base. 

Step 1: Cut the Rope and Tie Knots

Figure out where you're going to hang up the treat and make the rope as long as you like, so it will fit in the space.

Tie knots toward one end of the rope.  I made groups of two and three, but you could just make one if you wanted to.

Leave enough rope at the other end, so you can tie it securely, otherwise the jays or the squirrels will take it home with them.

I made a bunch of these at once, so I could have them on hand for a couple of months.  You certainly don't need to make so many at one time.  I suggest starting with one as a test, so you can modify the flour mixture if it comes out too hard or soft.  (See the next step.)

After you get the rope cut, lay out a bunch of plastic wrap, to cover the size of the work area that you will need.  The seeds stick to everything, so plastic wrap is an absolute necessity.

Step 2: Mix Up a Batch of Seeds

Find a container that will hold about four cups of sticky goo.

Dump in about 1/4 cup of flour, then add water a little at a time, mixing it until it becomes a liquidy paste (think Elmer's School Glue).

After the paste looks about right, put in about two cups of seeds and stir until they are covered completely with the sticky stuff.  Add more seeds if necessary, until you get a sticky mess, as seen in the photos.

Step 3: Apply One Side and Allow to Dry

Wet your hands, to help keep the stuff from sticking to them.  (If you wear gloves, wet them too - it will help keep them clean.)

Grab a blob of sticky seeds and blop it down over one of the knots in the rope. Continue blopping the seed mixture over the knots until they are all covered in a mound of seeds, about as big as a baseball. (Mix more batches of flour and seeds if you need to.)

Clean your hands, but be careful not to get too many seeds in your drain. They have a tendency to clog things up pretty quickly.

Get a square of plastic wrap and lay it over one blob at a time. Compress the seeds around the knot as tightly as possible. If the blobs are too squishy, just wait 30 minutes and try again. As they dry, they become stickier and firmer, and easier to work with. Peel off the square of plastic wrap and reuse it to do the rest of the blobs.

After they have been compressed, they will need to dry until they are hard (for about 24 hours) before you can go on to the next step.

Step 4: Apply the Second Side and Allow to Dry Again

Flip over the hemispheres and arrange them on your workspace, so you can reach them easily.

Mix up more floury, sticky seeds and put blops on the other side of the rope, until they are roughly spherical.

Use a square of plastic wrap to compress them again.

If the other side crumbles, either your paste was too thin or you didn't wait until they were dry and hard enough before you started the second side.  The good part is, you can scoop up the broken bits and remix them with more floury paste until you get it right.

They will need to dry until they are hard (for about another 24 hours) before you can go to the next step.

Step 5: Break Off the Rough Edges and Round Out the Shapes If Necessary

If you want the treats to be symmetrical, you will probably need to break off the extra bits and maybe mix up another batch of sticky seeds to fill in the odd places.  Then, you'll have to wait again, until they dry (another 24 hours). 

If you don't care what shape they are, you are done and can go hang the treat outside.

Step 6: Allow to Dry for at Least 48 Hours Before Storing

This isn't really a step, but it is important enough that it gets its one anyway.

If the area that the treats are drying in is too moist, or if it doesn't get enough air flow, they will get moldy.  If it is too wet, they may even germinate and sprout on you.

Keep the treats uncovered while they dry.  Plastic wrap on top will definitely keep them from drying properly and will cause them to mold.   At the end, if you are going to store the treats in a sealed container, or wrap them in plastic wrap, you should dry them for an extra day before wrapping them up.

Step 7: Feed the Birds!

Here are some photos of the aftermath, when I put one of these treats outside in a tree.  I wanted to get some photos of the treats as they were slowly whittled down, but I was working, so I didn't get to go back out for about five hours.  By the time I got back out there, the last treat was being destroyed by one of our resident woodpeckers and the other two on the rope were long gone.

Good luck with your own birds or mammals.  (Our squirrels like to use them as an edible playground, as you can see from the photo taken on a different day.)