by Candy Wawro

Of all avians we feed in our back yard, our favorites are the Baltimore Orioles.

Photo: Diane Deming

When my husband gets up at 6 a.m. the orange-bottomed birds are waiting for their breakfast. He fills the feeder with halved oranges, some special nectar we make with a 6:1 ratio of water to sugar, and 4-ounces of Welches’ Natural Grape Jelly. We learned the hard way these black-winged birds are picky about which kind of grape jelly they eat.  Who knew the six to eight inch flying machines would reject high fructose corn syrup? They prefer Welches’ natural grape jelly. Their thick, pointed bills can suck up a pint of the natural jelly fast, and would eat more if I didn’t have to pay $2.39 a pint. I mean, they like it a lot!

So last year when a friend offered me free Concord grapes for the picking, I thought, why not? I could save some cash, it would be natural and the birds probably would like it even more than their sacred Welches.

I was in the vineyard early the next morning and filled a five-gallon bucket in less than ten minutes. The next day my friend called and asked if I needed more.


It was warm and misting that day.  My friend told stories as we picked. The work was easy and I was having so much fun I filled five more five-gallon buckets before I realized what lay ahead.

The work began later that morning, and after three days of meticulously removing individual grapes from their stems, and crushing them in my palms until my hands turned purple, it wasn’t fun anymore.

My husband came home, found me dazed, and took the last five-gallon pail of purple, red and green grapes out onto the patio. He smashed the fruit and stems into juice with the end of a 2 X 4 in less than five minutes.

Photo: Diane Deming

Then all I had to do was boil and strain the purple juice to eliminate the seeds and stems. I added sugar, over fifty pounds for all 6 buckets, and added the pectin as directed. I ladled the thickened, sweet syrup into new pint jars–another expensive purchase, washed the stickiness from every surface in our kitchen, and water-bathed them for ten minutes in a propane-powered turkey fryer on the patio. I shelved eighty pints of glorious grape jelly for the flock by the end of that week.

I was tired … a good tired, and confident I had done my grocery budget and next year’s jelly-suckers proud. I had enough healthy, homemade, natural Concord grape jelly for the coming season.

This year the birds came in May. We were out of town and a neighbor fed eight pair of orioles at first. She said they lapped up the last jar of Welches leftover from last summer by noon–licked the feeder clean. She even purchased extras pints because my husband was adamant we put off presenting my jelly until they were dependent on their purple nectar from the Welches’ factory gods.  When we arrived home my husband ladled my jelly into the feeders. The birds slowed, barely eating a pint every few days.

I was puzzled. There was no significant color difference between the Welches and my brand, although that last bucket of free grapes was mixed, green and red with purple, which may have altered the taste. My husband was now filling the feeder only two times a week instead of several times during the day. The Baltimore Orioles were snubbing my healthy, homemade, natural Concord grape jelly.

I had a lot of grape jelly to get rid of.

“Let’s mix mine with Welch’s,” I told my husband, thinking we could gradually wean them off the store-bought brand. “Don’t let the Welches pool on top or they will stop when they get to mine.”

Lessons learned:

• You can’t trick Baltimore Orioles.

• Birds are capable of learning and adapting. The orioles now eat my jelly at a rate of 4 to 5 pints a week, because that’s all they’re getting from our house. They may be slurping Welches at other feeders around Clark Lake. They do still get a fresh halved orange at our feeder each day, until they decide they want mango, and then they can go fly a kite.

• I learned to be watchful of any bulk fruit or vegetables I get from a friend, especially if they are free.

I do like to cook, and since our orioles are beginning to see it my way about eating jelly, I will do it again. My preserves have to be healthier than Welches, and I’m sticking to that, at least until all the eighty pints are gone. Next year I won’t mix white and red grapes with the Concords, and I’ll use my husband’s 2 X 4 technique.

Unfortunately, my husband is not convinced it’s cheaper to make jelly from free grapes if I need to buy 7 dozen pint jars, 50 pounds of sugar, 13 packs of pectin, plus a week of eating out because I was too tired to cook.

I say, “but, it’s for the birds.”

He agrees–the entire process is for the birds, and he  does not approve of my attempts at putting Welches’ factory workers out of jobs.