Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Zick Dough-- Romance, Laughter, Intrigue

Sound like your favorite novel? Feeding the dough-y bird suet best known as, 'Zick Dough', is every bit of that and more.For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, the suet nickname refers to infamous blogger, NPR commentator, author, artist, naturalist, Julie Zicklefoose, an experienced bird feeder who has made the recipe renown with her observations about her feathered patrons.
I made my first batch less than two weeks ago and just before our Tennessee thermostats plummeted into single digits. So far it’s given me countless giggle breaks as I've peeped out the window to see what’s going on out there. And there's always something going on.A titmouse was my first taker. He grabbed a chunk of the peanut-buttery suet and devoured it on a nearby limb. And the suet attracted the first blue jays I’ve seen near my feeders.

They were cautious about approaching the feeders, but eagerly snatched the tidbits scattered on the ground. A parade of other suet lovers has followed, among them, the frequent visiting white-breasted nuthatch, a pair of Downy woodpeckers and flocks of juncos.
The happy chattering of this Carolina wren usually brings me to the window. It’s a sound that reminds me of a giggling child or the purring of a contented cat as he chows down dinner. I watched him grab a bite of dough, drop it to the ground, jump down to gobble it up and hop back to the plate for another helping. A couple of days ago, instead of chatter, I heard him scolding. I looked out to find him perched over an empty plate. Visitors had come in the night and cleaned up all the leftovers leaving behind plenty of scat on the ground.
Hmmmm. Raccoon? Opossum? It didn’t look like any scat I found on the web. I became more judicious about handing out dough and started bringing the suet plate in at night. Then last night, a sound outside the door. I turned off the inside light and flipped on the porch light to take a peek and look who I found.
Kind of cute, huh? But I think ‘pure trouble’ is a better description. His buddy sauntered off when he spotted me in the window.

I know these guys to be crafty and tenacious. Racoons are responsible for the heavy blocks weighting down trash can lids around here. The good news is the hanging feeders are still unscathed. But I'm guessing there'll be challenges ahead.

Note added Jan 31st: Be sure and read the comment section regarding the night time pellets. There's a good chance that instead of scat, these pellets are castings left behind by a 'possum instead.

11 comments:

  1. I made my third batch of the stuff today. It's a nature watcher's goldmine!

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  2. Vickie your photos and sketches are wonderful. Looks like you better bring in those feeders at night. The coons around here climb my poles and have taken the tube feeders off. Just a matter of time.

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  3. What fun with the birds at your feeder! The night-time thief does look like trouble! That's one animal I've never seen.

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  4. Hi Vickie,

    I made my very first batch of Zick Dough a year ago. Manna from Heaven for the birds. I'd love to offer it more often now but our temps aren't cold enough this week. I save it for below freezing nights or days.

    Your Titmouse photos are divine. How do you get them to be still?

    I've seen raccoon tracks on my back deck many times but so far, knock on wood, my Koi are still there and the feeders are untouched. For now.

    Lovely post, great pics.

    Mary

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  5. I love to see your sketches and watercolors mixed into your posts. It seems so effortless, but I know how skilled one has to be to create those. You are so talented!

    Poor pesky racoons, he was looking for his *platter* of Zick's Suet Dough.

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  6. Enjoyable post from start to finish. And, the raccoon looks adorable!

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  7. Well, you've certainly had a smorgesborg of action at your house! Love the blue jay sketches!

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  8. Hi Vickie - those are great titmouse photos. Interesting you have raccoons - that is surely trouble with a capital T!

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  9. What a pretty post, Vickie! Love the paintings.
    Your mystery scat may actually be castings of the indigestible seed shells, and are probably from a possum who has coughed it up (rather than pooped it out). We get those under the feeder, too.

    Our coons go to sleep in the dead of winter, and possums are the only ones about, which is how I figured out the castings have to be from them. If you will sniff them you'll find they are not odiferously repugnant as scat would be.

    why, I do believe you have just had a Science Chimp attack. If there's too much information, she's been there!

    Eee! Eee! Eee!

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  10. Julie, I couldn't stop laughing after reading your comment! Welcome, science chimp. I could picture myself on my knees sniffing pellets...maybe. But yes, my first impression was just that, pellets, like owls or cats would expel.

    Actually, the other reason I was laughing, is that I happened to see an opossum chowing down seeds tonight. And that is exactly what I thought, maybe the pellets weren't from racoons after all.

    I sure didn't know this about opossum regurgitation. So I'm more than glad to have your informative comment. Thanks!

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  11. Great captures of the Tufted Titmouse and the Carolina Wren Vickie, and I love the drawings of the Blue Jay!

    I had a time last fall when all of a sudden, my feeders (suet and sunflower) were being knocked down at night and I actually had a couple break (I repaired them with new parts).

    I thought it was a Gray Fox (they do climb trees) but later decided it was a raccoon. It would be the only animal that could take the feeders off of their hooks. I had to fasten my feeders onto the trees with a wire encircling the branch to prevent any further mischief.

    It all started when I made a new batch of suet and put it out in the suet feeders. I have been using the same recipe as Julie's but with 1/3 cup of sugar mixed in, and I actually press the dough into blocks that fit the suet feeders. I call it "no melt suet" because it doesn't melt in our 110 degree summers here.

    The birds go crazy for it and it gets eaten 3 times faster than the store bought suet cakes. Now I place it in upside down or covered suet feeders that Steller's Jays and other "non-clinging" birds can't get to.

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