Birdseed Ornaments

By Ann Fulton

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It’s hard to come up with the perfect gift for parents, teachers, neighbors, aunt and uncles, and family friends.  Birdseed ornaments are fun to make and economical, too — and your feathered friends will thank you! 🐦

 

 

 

 

 

At first glance, a recipe featuring birdseed might suggest that I’m dishing up unappetizing diet fare as punishment for overloaded Thanksgiving plates and a few too many turkey sandwiches. Rest assured. I would never do that!

Conversely, after long hours spent preparing a holiday feast, the cook has earned the right to coast on leftovers for a while. And while it may be a little early for gingerbread men and sand tarts, those cookie cutters can be put to good use with a fun project that pulls double duty as a thoughtful gift or present topper.

When my sons were little, we began what became an annual ritual of making homemade gifts for relatives and teachers. The boys always felt a sense of pride giving a little something in which they invested their time and effort, and we always had fun in the process.

Over the years, we chose projects with the hopes that the items could be readily used, consumed, or tucked away with the holiday decorations to be revisited in future years as a special keepsake. Visions of the gift recipients’ closets and drawers always lurked in the back of my mind. Space is always at a premium—no need to contribute clutter!

The first time we made these ornaments, I was certain the relentless invaders of our backyard birdfeeders would make quick work of them. To my surprise, the squirrels largely ignored them. They hold up quite well and, topped with a colorful ribbon, look pretty amidst the leafless trees.

On that note, I recently read that mixing some cayenne pepper with the birdseed destined for traditional feeders will keep the squirrels at bay without bothering the birds. Though we haven’t yet put this tip to use, I thought it worth mentioning for those who end up watching more squirrels than birds.

It’s hard to come up with the perfect gift for parents, teachers, neighbors, aunt and uncles, and family friends.  Birdseed ornaments are fun to make and economical, too -- and your feathered friends will thank you! 🐦

Birdseed ornaments are fun to make, economical, and can be a thoughtful gift for parents, teachers, neighbors, aunt and uncles, and family friends.

Birdseed Ornaments
Prep Time: 20 min
Total Time: 8 hours
Yield: 3-4 ornaments made from standard-size cookie cutters
If you’d like to make additional ornaments, I recommend doing them in separate batches. That way, the mixture won’t start to dry out as the ornaments are being made. You want the birdseed to be wet when going into the cookie cutters for maximum stick factor once dried, and prepping individual batches takes just a minute or two.
Supplies
  • ¾ to 1 cup birdseed
  • 1 packet (.25 ounce or 7 grams) of gelatin (unflavored—I use Knox)
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • Cookie cutters, lightly greased*
  • Twine and/or ribbon
  • Parchment or waxed paper
Instructions
  1. Combine the gelatin and the water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool for one minute. Stir in ¾ cup birdseed, adding extra as needed until all the liquid is absorbed. (You won’t want to add much more than 1 cup, otherwise there won’t be enough “glue” to bind the birdseed once dried.)
  2. Place the cookie cutters on a parchment or waxed paper on a baking sheet. (You can make the ornaments right on the counter, but a baking sheet allows for them to be easily moved aside later.) Fill each ornament halfway with the birdseed mixture. Lay a piece of twine down the length of the cookie cutter. Fill the cookie cutter to the top with remaining birdseed mixture, making sure to pack it down firmly. Allow the ornaments to dry for several hours or overnight. Once completely dried, gently press the ornaments out of the cookie cutters. If desired, add a decorative ribbon and hang on a tree branch for the birds to enjoy!
Hints

*The cookie cutters do not have to be greased, but lightly greasing them will make for extra easy removal once dry, especially when using ornaments with small angles like stars. Younger children may be better off using ornaments without tight corners, as these are slightly harder to pack with the birdseed. We use a very small spoon for this.

The key to ornaments that are sturdy and stick together is to press firmly on the birdseed mixture as you pack it into the molds.

 

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Comments

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Bonni, A few people have had this issue recently, so I’m wondering if the birdseed may be old, even if newly purchased. If there are mold spores in the seed, a warm environment would encourage their growth. If not using the ornaments outside right away, storing them in the refrigerator would likely avert this growth. I’m curious as to how quickly the mold developed. If quickly, it suggests that the mold was there and simply needed to be activated so to speak, which the wet ingredients would do. I am sorry this happened and hope this is somewhat helpful. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

      Reply
  1. Laura

    I made 12 of these to gift at a holiday dinner. I put each in a small clear bag with a bow. They came out perfect except that they are now growing MOLD after only 2 days. The bird seed and Knox packets were brand new. I’m hoping all that time wasn’t wasted.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Laura, I’m sorry you’re noticing mold. For mold to develop in two days, one of two things is likely responsible. First, there would either have to be moisture trapped in the bag and a somewhat warm setting. The bag would then act as a little greenhouse. Alternatively, there could have been something already in the birdseed you purchased that led to this quick growth. For you best chance at salvaging them, I would remove the ornaments from the bag, remove any mold, and place them in a cool, dry place. Again, I’m sorry this happened and am hoping a dry storage spot will solve the problem.

      Reply
  2. Dana Tellier

    I am going to be making these with my grand children tomorrow. I have hear some people saying theirs didn’t harden. I know we have to press into the cutter firmly but should we also refrigerate them to help them harden?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Dana, What a fun project this will be with your grandchildren. I’ve never had a problem with the ornaments not firming up. As long as you adhere to the directions and don’t add too much birdseed, you should be fine. That said, refrigerating them wouldn’t hurt. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask – and have fun!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Kathy, I recommend preparing separate batches. That way, the mixture won’t start to dry out as you’re making the ornaments. For maximum stick factor once dried, you want the birdseed to be wet when going into the cookie cutters.

      Reply
  3. Katie

    Hello, I work in a nursing home and my residents love to watch birds out side their window. Thinking this would be an amazing craft for them to do. But the only way for us to heat up water is the microwave or kettle. *I have never worked with gelatin before* will the desired affect be the same? Do it matter what kind of bird seed is used?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Katie, I think if you start with boiling water from a kettle and stir it into the gelatin, it should dissolve just fine. As for the birdseed, anything like what’s pictured will work well. What a wonderful project for the resident you care for!

      Reply
      1. Katie

        Perfect! Will make a few at home to make sure I can get it correct for them. Thank you for getting back to me. Looking forward to doing this craft with them.

        Reply
  4. Heather Crunkleton

    I just made these using a different recipe and I doubled it. Mine were a complete flop so don’t do what I did. I think the advice listed here is excellent. Definitely keep them in small batches and use fresh Knox gelatin.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Heather, I’m assuming you searched for a better option after your first recipe didn’t pan out. Thank you for reinforcing the “don’t double” recommendation. The recipe is so simple, and following a few basic tips definitely helps ensure success.

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Kelli, I mention in the recipe that a single batch yields 3-4 ornaments made from standard-size cookie cutters. You can definitely double as desired.

      Reply
  5. Jackie Harrison

    Hi. I’m making these lovely birdseed ornaments as a Christmas gift for my dad and was wondering does it have to be metal cookie cutters or can plastic ones also be used.

    Many thanks
    Jackie x

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Jackie, I think plastic cutters should work just as well as metal. The main trick is to press the mixture firmly within the cutters so that they hold together well. What a thoughtful gift to give your dad!

      Reply
      1. Jackie Harrison

        Hi Ann,
        Thank you i will make sure I press the mixture in firmly!
        Yes, my dad loves watching the birds in his garden so thank you for the lovely idea xx
        Jackie

        Reply
  6. Katie

    As I’m making these as gifts, to get rid of the gelatin smell I added about 1-2 tap of ground cinnamon (I checked it was safe for birds and other animals first!) and it works great! Just be careful not to add too much as I would imagine it would gum up the gelatin if I’d used anymore, you can tell by eye.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I love that idea, Katie! Thanks for mentioning and for taking a moment to check that cinnamon is safe for the birds. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Avril

    Please avoid using cayenne pepper in the mix. If squirrels get it in their eyes or other sensitive areas, it burns. They scratch at the pain and can cause extreme harm.

    Reply
    1. Peggy Kruse

      I was told at my aviary shop that the squirrels will not bother them b/c they smell the cayenne pepper and stay away from them. I was also concerned about it hurting the birds and they explained it doesn’t hurt them because they don’t taste the seeds. I was surprised and read more and found out that is true! Even at 67, I learn something new everyday. Lol

      Reply
      1. Ann Post author

        Thank you for weighing in with word from the aviary shop, Peggy. The information is very helpful…and I love learning something new every day, too!

        Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Dawn, One packet is .25 ounce or 7 grams, and I just updated the recipe to reflect that. Thank you for taking the time to clarify as others may have the same question. (Note: Dawn, I updated this comment on 12/6/20 as I made an error when answering the other day. I apologize and hope it didn’t cause a problem.)

      Reply
      1. Amber

        Can you reconfirm the amount of gelatin? It looks like the Knox packets are 1/4 oz each, so four packets equal one ounce. Are you using one packet, or all four to get one ounce? On January 10th you gave a slightly different answer (that you use one packet, but four packets equal one ounce). I’m excited to try this out with my kiddos! Thank you for sharing!

        Reply
        1. Ann Post author

          Amber, I’m so glad you asked this. When I answered Dawn’s question the other day and subsequently added the weight measurement to the “1 packet” line, I looked at the front of the recent box I purchased and mistakenly used the total weight. I just corrected that recent update to reflect the proper weight, which is a quarter ounce (or one of the four packets). Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. In an effort to clarify, I managed to confuse!

          Reply
  8. Susan Kopf

    My granddaughter made a batch and they look great. However, they did not harden. She did allow them to sit over night. What should we do to make the next batch hard.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Susan, Not pressing the mixture firmly into the cookie cutters would make them less sturdy. If the ornaments didn’t harden, it makes me wonder if she didn’t get all the gelatin out of the packet, as that is what really acts as the glue as the ornaments dry. The combination of these two things (dried gelatin “glue” mixture and compression) is the key to success. If you still have questions, please check back so we can figure this out. I want your granddaughter to have complete success!

      Reply