Bark butter and DIY bird feeders

Natural feeder is irresistible to 152 species of birds

Combining Bark Butter with a DIY bird feeder has become my favourite combination for attracting woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees to my wildlife, woodland garden.

It has also quickly become my favourite feeder combo to photograph birds in a natural setting.

So if you are like me and love either photographing backyard birds, or simply watching woodpeckers, nuthatches and other suet-loving garden visitors as they peck away gathering food for the winter, then you will love the simplicity of creating this DIY branch feeder. The feeders are so easy to make and appreciated by out feathered friends that I’ve already made two and plan on making many more in the near future.

But before digging in on how to make the DIY feeder let’s talk a little about Wild Birds Unlimited Bark Butter.

There are other spreadable-suet products available that might suit your needs. I just can’t speak to them. I do plan to order some of these products from Amazon and will report back.

A woodpecker removes a piece of Bark Butter from the DIY branch feeder.

A woodpecker removes a piece of Bark Butter from the DIY branch feeder.

What’s Bark Butter?

Bark Butter is a spreadable suet-peanut butter and corn blend that can be easily spread on a rough surface like tree bark or stuffed into holes or small crevices that are easily accessible to many birds. It is especially accessible to those birds with long beaks that can reach into cracks and areas where squirrels may have difficulty reaching. It is sold, in many different forms, through Wild Birds Unlimited stores and on line throughout Canada and the United States. The formula for Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter is said to be created by Jim Carpenter, founder of Wild Birds Unlimited. It is advertised as a food source that attracts a greater variety of birds than any other food source including regular suet.

This Flicker is working one of the many Bark Butter pockets in the DIY branch feeder.

This Flicker is working one of the many Bark Butter pockets in the DIY branch feeder.

I can’t verify the claims that it attracts more than 152 species of birds, but I can verify that this stuff is a joy to use. Its peanut butter base makes handling it enjoyable. In fact, I mostly just scoop it out of its plastic container using my hands and stuff it into the holes I’ve drilled into the DIY feeder tree branch. Any access bark butter that gets on my hand is simply rubbed into the crevices of the branch’s bark.

Getting back to those 152 different species that Bark Butter is said to attract. I have no doubts that the claims are true that Bark Butter attracts everything from woodpeckers like Flickers, Downies, Hairy and red-breasted woodpeckers, to Brown Creepers, Chickadees, Jays and even warblers. As many know, attracting warblers to our gardens is not always easy. Anything that brings warblers into the yard is a good thing and, since Warblers are big insect eaters, the bark bits with insects would be a good choice to attract them.

Bark Butter is not inexpensive so care should be taken to use it wisely and do everything possible to keep squirrels and other mammals from feasting on it.

Although it is recommended to be spread on tree bark, if squirrels discover it before the birds, there’s a good chance they’ll devour most of it before the birds get to it.

The DIY feeder helps solve this problem. Because it can be hung from a feeding station complete with squirrel baffles and placed is an area of your garden that makes access difficult for raccoons, squirrels and other garden critters, it’s easy to maximize the benefits of the butter.

As an experiment, I have created two of these feeders. One is hanging off the feeding station and therefore protected from squirrels. The other feeder is part of a large tree branch that has been dug into the ground and allows easy access to red and grey squirrels among other backyard wildlife critters who discover it.

A Nuthatch feasts on Bark Butter at the lichen-covered DIY branch feeder.

A Nuthatch feasts on Bark Butter at the lichen-covered DIY branch feeder.

As a result of the experiment, I can attest to squirrels’ love of Bark Butter and the importance of making access difficult for them. Once loaded up, the Bark Butter feeder on the feeding station remains available to the birds for several days, while the branch feeder is more or less devoured in a day or two. I suppose using the hot pepper mix is appropriate in this circumstance to keep squirrels away, but after my fair share of hot wings, I’m not a fan of teaching the squirrels a hard-earned lesson.

In the end, I like both feeders. If saving money is important to you, however, it’s probably wise to make it difficult for squirrels to get access to your DIY feeders.

The bark butter is available in plastic tubs in both regular and a hot pepper blend that helps detract squirrels from feasting on the rather expensive feed. It’s also available in a Bugs and Bits blend, which incorporates small pellets of bark butter together with insect parts including meal worms. The same pellet-shaped Bark Butter Bits are available without the insects and with hot pepper. There is also Bark Butter quickbites and a large no-melt suet cyclinder. Both are available in regular and hot pepper.

Be aware that some Wild Birds Unlimited locations choose not to sell the hot pepper Bark Butter.

For more on Building your Garden on a Budget go here.

While I get great enjoyment from my bird feeding stations, providing natural food sources to our feathered friends is always the goal we should aspire to in our gardens. I have written a comprehensive post on feeding birds naturally. You can read about it here.

Simple, easy-to-create DIY feeders

There are many different ways to use Bark Butter. One of the simplest ways is to gather pine cones from the garden and smother them with the bark butter. These can be hung from tree branches throughout the garden especially during or just before a snowfall.

But my favourite method is to use a one- or two-foot branch cut from or left over from a tree pruning, either from your own tree or a neighbours’. My feeders are a little thicker than a man’s wrist, but larger, heavier branches can be used for larger woodpeckers like the Pileated woodpecker.

These feeders are so simple to make that the process is almost not worth describing. But here is a simple description of the process.

• Drill a hole through the branch maybe an inch or two down from an end to insert string or preferably wire, which will be used to hang the feeder.

• Then, using a larger drill bit, start drilling several pockets or holes in the branch at regular intervals.

• If there is a side branch, leave some of it to act as a small perch for the birds. Then drill a hole above the perch to act as a convenient location for birds to get easy access to the Bark Butter.

• I use a combination of drilled pockets that go half way into the branch, full holes drilled right through the branch to provide birds with different length beaks access to the butter.

• Once the wire is attached and the Bark Butter applied, you can hang the feeder. Leave room around the feeder to give visitors access from all sides.

• Refilling the tree branch with suet is just a matter of taking a clump of the Bark Butter and stuffing it into the holes. I do it with my hands but you could use an old spoon. Wild Birds Unlimited says to use a fork for the final application because the rungs leave a criss-cross pattern in the butter that birds can easily pick off and eat.

woodpeckr up close.jpg

Create a free-standing feeder for all garden visitors

• Our other Bark Butter feeder is nothing but a larger 8- to 9-foot branch partially buried into the ground a couple of feet.

• Once stabilized in the ground, drill several holes and pockets in the branch at various heights to provide birds with several feeding areas up and down the branch.

• Smaller holes can be drilled into the branch to insert perches for birds or long screws to hang smaller feeders from. This is an ideal spot to add Bark Butter-infused pine cones.

• I like to fill this bird feeder an hour or two before going out to photograph the birds to give me another potential photo location.

Branch feeders are ideal photographic stages

This larger branch has become a favourite location for birds and squirrels who enjoy taking up a position on top to scan the garden. It has only been up for about eight months and I’m sill waiting for a large hawk or owl to discover it and use it as a hunting perch.

But I’m confident that time will come and I hope to be there in my Tragopan V6 photo blind ready to capture the image.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the large variety of backyard birds providing me with endless photographic opportunities on my two natural feeders.

The lure of the DIY branch feeder and Bark Butter is irresistible to so many birds. This makes it ideal for photographers to capture natural images (much like the ones featured in this article) of the many varieties that visit. The DIY feeder combined with a photographic blind like the Tragopan V6 one-person blind, makes it easy to get up close to some of your favourite species. The feeders and the blind are also portable enough to move them around the garden to obtain the background of your choosing.

If photographing birds is one of your primary goals behind creating the branch feeders, be careful to drill your holes strategically to hide as many as possible from the camera lens. By keeping the suet pockets on one side and shooting from an angle that keeps the suet more or less hidden, the resulting photos can look very natural.

I like to look for branches from older trees that already have lichen and moss growing on them. A chainsaw makes creating several lengths of feeders easy and quick work.

Gardening on a budget links

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Proven Winners Idea Book

Ten money-saving tips for the weekend gardener

Window boxes on a budget

DIY Bark Butter feeder for Woodpeckers

DIY reflection pond for photography

Click & Grow is ideal for Native Plants from seed

Nature’s DIY garden art

DIY solar drip for bird bath

Remove your turf and save money

DIY succulent planter

Hiring students to get your garden in shape

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Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with his readers.

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