Here is a photo of a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks on our feeders. We are big bird lovers and bird watchers. We have several feeders right outside our dining room windows. We love to watch the birds that come to them. We have
both loose seed feeders and seed cylinder feeders like the ones shown here. Bird seed is cheap, but pre-made seed cylinders or cakes for our feeders cost a small fortune. I eventually got tired of listening to my wife grumble
about how expensive the seed cylinders are, and decided to figure out how to make my own as a nice project while locked down during the Corona Virus pandemic. How hard could it be? Famous last words, right? Well,
not in this case. It actually turned out to be pretty darn easy. Here's how I did it.
The first thing I needed was something to use as a mold for making the seed cylinders. It needed to be round and between 4 and 6 inches in diameter so the resulting cylinders would fit on our cylinder feeders. I happened to
notice an empty plastic gallon jug in our recycling bin. I measured it and decided it would be just about perfect for the job. It is right about 6 inches in diameter. I cut the tapered top off and then was
left with a cylinder the perfect diameter, and just a little shorter than the cylinders we normally buy. The only issue with it was that it flares out a bit at the base. I figured this would mean I'd have to
slit the side of it to get the finished cylinder out. I didn't see that as a real problem.
We buy bird seed practically by the ton. I wheeled the bin of seed into the kitchen and got busy. The first thing I did was fill my makeshift mold almost full of seed, so I'd know how much I'd need.
It turned out to be around 14 cups worth. I poured the seed into a large mixing bowl. The seed mix we use already contains a large variety of seeds, plus peanuts and raisins. Birds absolutely love it,
and empty our loose seed feeders of it every couple of days. I decided to jazz up my seed cylinder even more by adding some whole raw almonds and some crasins to the mix to make it irresistable to any self-respecting
Next came the secret ingredient to make everything stick together. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. It's gelatine. I wracked my brain wondering what the seed cylinder manufacturers could be using to glue the cylinders
together. I could think of potential problems that would eliminate every "sticky" substance in our kitchen. After some online research, and label reading, I settled on gelatine. It's perfect
for the job. It just needs to be un-flavored, and mixed up a lot thicker than you normally would. For my prototype first seed cylinder I used 3 cups of hot water and 8 packets of gelatine.
UPDATE: I have been experimenting with the ratio of liquid to seed to gelatine. Here are a couple of seed cylinders I made using less liquid so they will not be so soggy and dry quicker.
The new recipe is 20 cups of seed mix, 3 1/4 cups of water and 8 packets of gelatine. This is a much less soggy, but no less sticky mixture. Just multiply or divide the ingredients as needed for your
application. I decided to work with 20 cups of seed since that would make one large diameter and one skinnier seed cylinder using empty jugs of various sizes as molds. Together they hold about 20 cups.
This mix is still a bit wetter than I would like. I may try cutting back by another 1/4 cup on the water in the future and see how that works.
Once I had all the seed packed into the mold, I pushed a wood dowel greased with vegetable oil down through the center of the cylinder. This will provide the needed hole through the center of the cylinder to hold it
on our cylinder feeders. I re-packed everything down nice and tight again after inserting the dowel. Then the mold went into the refrigerator to firm up. It got hard very quickly, but I left it in the fridge
overnight just to make sure.
The next morning I took the experimental seed cylinder out of it's mold. Just as I thought, I had to slit the side of the mold to get it out. I can always tape it back together and reuse it. Getting the stick
out of the center of the cylinder proved to be difficult. It was pretty thoroughly glued in. Eventually I got it out. Future cylinders use some slick plastic pipe, greased very thoroughly, rather than using wood
which is rough on the surface. Still, not bad for a first effort. Things get better with practice.
Next I put the damp seed cylinder in front of a fan on our back porch to dry. The bottom quarter of the cylinder was quite soggy. I suspect I used too much liquid and the excess pooled in the bottom of the mold.
This is what prompted me to try cutting back on the amount of water and gelatine by about 25% on future cylinders so they weren't as soggy. In spite of the sogginess, the cylinder dried quickly. By dinner time
that night it was already noticeably dryer and firmer. I let it dry in front of the fan for a week before putting it outside on one of the feeders. It probably only needed a couple of days, but
I left it there until I needed to replace one of the cylinders on the feeders. By then it was very firm and dry.
My home-made seed cylinder proved to be a perfect fit for our cylinder feeders. Here it is right after I installed it on one of them. Now it was up to the birds to pass their judgment on it. Would they like it?
I had hardly walked away from the feeders when the first customer arrived. A female downy woodpecker landed on the fresh, new seed cylinder and began pecking away at it. We have several mated pairs of downy
woodpeckers on our property. They are near constant fixtures at our feeders.
The next morning it rained really hard. There were strong thunderstorms and hard, blowing rain. I was glad to see my home-made seed cylinder didn't melt away in the rain.
Looks like everyone likes my seed cylinders, even the squirrels.
There are always a lot of squirrels scurrying around under our feeders. Birds are messy eaters, seemingly dropping as much or more than they actually eat. This is a boon to the squirrels, who can't get onto
our feeders. We've gone to great lengths to squirrel-proof them. There are metal cones to prevent them from climbing the Shepard's crook poles. We have positioned them far enough away from anything the squirrels
could jump from that they can't make the leap to the feeders. The one loose seed feeder we hang in a tree is a squirrel-proof type. It stays open when light birds land on it, but the weight of a squirrel on it causes
the feeder openings to close up. So, sorry fellows. You'll just have to make do with what the birds drop.