Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


March 3, 2014

PLATEAU GARDENING: Feeding and counting birds    

CROSSVILLE — A heavy mast crop last fall was one sign that led those who use old-time folk lore to predict conditions to warn that the winter of 2013-'14 would be bad. It was a good call. March blasts of arctic air make seeking out the remaining seeds, berries and nuts a matter of survival for wild birds and animals. Insect-eating creatures find food scarcer due to cold, as well.

During a hard winter like this, bird-feeding stations are a way to supplement the natural food available. I typically keep feeders out until the newly hatched babies fledge in springtime. I just bought a big bag of black-oil sunflower seeds and a large tub of lard for making suet cakes. The Marvel Meal suet recipe I use was created by ornithologist John Terres for various bird species that came to his North Carolina yard. These suet cakes are a favorite of bluebirds, titmice, nuthatches, Carolina wrens and the many woodpeckers that frequent my feeders.

Marvel Meal recipe

Mix 1 cup peanut butter (I use the crunchy style); 1 cup melted vegetable shortening or 1 cup melted beef suet or 1 cup bacon drippings; 4 cups corn meal (yellow is higher in vitamin A; never use the self-rising type); and 1 cup white flour (do not use self-rising flour).

This makes a soft, doughy food. It can be smeared on tree bark or pressed into holes of a suet log. Chill in square or round containers to mold into cakes that can be offered in wire suet holders (remove from the container first!). I use empty margarine tubs with lids. If kept in the freezer, suet stays good for months.

A cautionary word — although some commercially prepared suet blocks have hard-shelled seeds imbedded in them, I don’t recommend adding seeds of that type. All the nutrition is in a seed’s center. Seed-eating birds crack hard coverings by clamping down on them with their beaks. Insect-eaters like titmice and red-headed wood peckers hold one sunflower seed at a time with their toes and peck to open it. A coating of fat can make tough shells too slippery for birds to break open. If they can’t get to the good stuff inside, money spent on seeds is wasted. You could, however, get creative with the recipe by adding softer items like sunflower and peanut hearts, raisins, etc.

Enticing our feathered friends with food and water in winter encourages them to stay around for the summer — a smart gardening strategy because these birds provide natural insect control (though I confess I feed the birds primarily because I enjoy bird watching). Readers who put out bird feeders should remember to scrub with bleach and water to sanitize them before they are stored for the summer.

Modern day natural science research has taken an amazing turn. Internet-based projects have been set up so ordinary people (termed "citizen scientists") can input data which research scientists use to track wildlife numbers and activities. 2014 was the second year the February Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) at has been used to gather information world-wide rather than just for the United States and Canada. GBBC is an effort of the Cornell  Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, Bird Studies Canada and eBird.

Bird count checklists are available online at the website. There are links from the checklist of birds commonly seen in your area to details on each species showing pictures and maps of habitat ranges. Tips to distinguish one species from others with similar features help those like me (who are enthusiasts rather than serious birders) get each identification right.

I submitted three count lists with 18 species and learned a lot. The top participant in Cumberland County had 55 species on his lists. Plateau Gardening readers can count birds anytime, anywhere in the world through and help scientific research. A free Bird ID app for iOS is now available and another scheduled for release later this spring for Android systems. Try birding. It’s fun.

• • •

Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and to learn about the Master Gardener program. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae ( 

Text Only
  • FFG Resident Services Painting.jpg FFG Resident Services presents painting to the Pat Summitt Foundation

    A dramatic portrait of Pat Summitt, painted by Chuck Jensen, was presented to the Pat Summitt Foundation by Fairfield Glade Resident Services at its Community Information Event on memory care.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • 127 seniors JosephZarolla-W6.jpg Zarola entertains 127 Seniors

    The members of the 127 South Senior Center met Friday, July 25, for bingo and Mexican Train domino game. Conversation, along with coffee and sweets, was enjoyed by all. Helen Lord called the bingo numbers, and the prizes were furnished by Eye Centers of Tennessee. Life Care Center checked everyone's blood pressures.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marriage licenses (Published July 30, 2014)

    July 29, 2014

  • Habitat-Group photo-Crisp Dedication .jpg Habitat celebrates 55th home dedication

    Anne Crisp is excited that she and her two daughters have a home to call their own. Cumberland County Habitat for Humanity (CCHFH) dedicated the 55th home to be built in partnership with low-income families. Crisp put more than 500 hours of "sweat equity" into her home and has completed 50 hours of self-improvement, where she attended classes on budgeting, home maintenance and good neighbor among others.

    July 28, 2014 2 Photos

  • Gypsy Rose to visit Fair Park

    The Cumberland County Playhouse is currently performing the award-winning Broadway play “Gypsy.” A great American story set during the 1920s fading vaudeville circuit, "Gypsy" portrays the rise of famed burlesque performer and stage mother Gypsy Rose Lee as she journeys across the country with her mother and sister during a time when Vaudeville was dying and burlesque was born. The complex character of Rose could be described as bold and brassy, as she steamrolls everyone in her way to turn her daughters June and Louise into child stars.

    July 28, 2014

  • plateau gardening-springBlooms4361.jpg Match August garden tasks to plant biology

    During all seasons in temperate climates like ours the greenery around us is changing. New shoots appear and leaves pop out of swollen buds after spring rains.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pleasant Hill Ramblings.jpg Landis reunites with Japanese teacher

    There is a special lady living in Pleasant Hill who spent 42 years of her life in Sendai, Japan, teaching English at a Japanese Christian school and as a missionary with the United Church of Christ Board for World Ministries.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lion of Year.jpg Lions Club recognizes Lion of the Year

    Charles Loveday, charter member of the Crossville Lions Club, was recognized as the Lion of the Year at the annual installation of officers picnic July 8. Loveday earned this award for his service as first vice president, membership chairman, eye glass chairman and his help with fundraisers and other matters where needed. From left are Loveday and President Gary Laura.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 8-8 counseling center-play with dolls.jpg Christian Counseling Center celebrating 12 years

    Help the Christian Counseling Center of Cumberland County (C5) celebrate 12 years of community service. Dine at Ruby Tuesday of Crossville Aug. 8, 9 or 10. Print the flyer from the center’s website,, and give it to the server.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • A Time 4 Paws collecting shoes to help Soles4Souls in fight against global poverty

    Attention anyone with a closet! Those shoes no longer wanted are desperately needed to fight the human tragedy of global poverty.

    July 24, 2014