Dear Readers, what you see in the photo above is the result of two hours work, a lot of swearing, a Kenwood mixer driven to the edge of madness and various ethical dilemmas around what to feed my long-suffering birds. Yes, it’s my OU ‘prey discrimination test’, which works by offering birds food in two different colours, and then noticing which they prefer.

You might remember that last week, when I first mentioned this, I was concerned about the food colouring used. After doing some research (after all, what are university libraries for?) I discovered that the issue with the red food colouring used in hummingbird feeders in North America related to a particular artificial colouring called Red 40. But anyway, I shopped around for the most ‘natural’ colourings that I could find, and found one which is basically cochineal and glycerine, and another which uses turmeric. The ‘red’ version is therefore not pillar-box red, as you can see, but I’m sure it’s different enough for my purposes.

Then I wanted to tweak the recipe. In the original, it’s basically just flour, water, lard and food colouring, but I added some mealworm flour and some ‘flutter butter’ (peanut butter for birds with no salt).

How, I hear you ask, do you buy mealworm flour? Well, in my case I get a handful of dried mealworms and whizz them up in my spice mill. Don’t tell my husband. Actually, I’d always been a bit sceptical about people willingly eating insects, but as a powder I don’t think you’d know – it looked and smelled a bit like bran. I don’t really want us to be eating our six-legged friends, but as a way to produce protein that doesn’t destroy the planet it might be a winner.

Anyhow, then I threw half the mixture into the Kenwood Mixer (last used to make focaccia but it didn’t seem to mind) and used various hooks and mixing devices to try to get a dough, and an evenly-coloured one at that. Getting the texture right is always tricky – too wet and it’s difficult to handle, too dry and you can’t get the colour mixed in correctly. Speaking of colour, after I’d made the ‘red’ dough the kitchen looked as if they’d been a nasty knife attack, and I’ve thrown red colouring all over my favourite jumper, so now it looks like a crime scene. I guess that’s what aprons are for (doh).

The yellow colouring was much more biddable, and apart from what I suspect are some permanent stains on my work top, all has gone well.

So here we have two massive amounts of dough, and the next thing to do is to persuade the birds to have a nibble. I put some pea-shaped amounts outside, and a woodpigeon has inspected them and left in disgust. I hope that isn’t going to be the general reaction, but with birds you never know. The experiment itself doesn’t start for a few weeks, so hopefully by then it will be acceptable. Wish me (and the birds) luck….

10 thoughts on “Sciencing…..

  1. sllgatsby

    I must say, I’m a bit disappointed not to see a picture of your crime scene hands and jumper. It would get us all in the Halloween spirit! šŸŽƒ šŸ©ø

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Such dedication to the cause… Well done. My wife has bought two sorts of suet ‘blocks’, one a biege colour, ‘with mealworm’ and the other red(ish), ‘with berry’ and, so far, only the latter is hanging on the tree outside the kitchen window. I have to say it doesn’t look touched after 3 days, but maybe it is a bit early for them. We shall have to put the other one next to it to see if it’s more popular. But then it may be the mealworm rather than the berry that they prefer. šŸ¤”

  3. Sharon

    I remember someone doing an experiment like this at school. Basically everything except the blue coloured stuff went. Look forward to hearimg your results.
    Meanwhile we fed a squabble of juvenile starlings last year with dried mealworms, and put out water. In the end we bought a Big Bag, and one of said squabble ended up feeding a local sparrowhawk.
    The others clearly passed on the warning, we had very few starlings this year at all, and still have a pretty full bag of mealworms. Good thing their dried!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Yesterday by the time I got up all the red ones had disappeared, then an hour later I peered outside and the yellow ones had followed suit! I suspect the magpies, but we shall see….


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