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If you’re looking for a new, fun Christmas tradition, try this: Create a Christmas tree for wild birds. You can do this with a tree growing in your yard, or you can undecorate your real, indoor Christmas tree and move it outdoors after Christmas.
Any kind of tree can be a bird Christmas tree, but choose one with widely spaced horizontal branches that birds can comfortably perch on. Evergreens provide shelter and protect ornaments from snow, but bare-branch trees work, too. For extra fun, choose a tree you can see from a comfy place in your home.
The trick is making ornaments out of tasty materials that are high in fat and carbohydrates. These provide calories wild birds need to survive cold weather. Avoid salty foods and anything moldy or spoiled.
It pays to know what sort of things your birds prefer. For instance, blue jays, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches like whole peanuts, while chickadees and wrens prefer suet. Lots of bird species go for black-oil sunflower seeds, but bluebirds, orioles and robins love fruit. If you’re unsure, visit the National Bird Feeding Society for recommendations.
Here are some easy decorations to try:
- Use strong thread and a large needle to string popped popcorn, cranberries, raisins or peanuts in the shell. Or simply string unsweetened O-shaped breakfast cereals, like Cheerios. Tie short strings to branches or drape long ones around the tree like garland.
- Cut mesh onion and fruit bags into six-inch squares, wrap each square around a small chunk of suet, tie them with cord or ribbon and hang them from the tree. Or buy ready-made suet cakes or ornaments in the birdseed section of your favorite store.
- Spread peanut butter or beef suet on and into pinecones and hang them from widely spaced branches. For variety, roll them in black-oil sunflower seeds or wild bird seed formulated for the birds in your yard.
- Secure dried sunflower heads or dried millet stalks to the tree.
- If fruit-loving species frequent your farm, attach a string to fresh or dried apple slices or chunks of orange and hang them.
- Attach a string to day-old plain, not sugared or glazed, donuts and secure them to the tree. Easy! Or spread them with peanut butter and birdseed for added appeal.
- Other foods birds enjoy include chunks of mild cheese, baked potato and wee baskets of shredded cheese, popped popcorn, seeds, and thawed peas or corn.
Even outdoors, food spoils, so don’t put out more than birds consume in a few days. Dispose of any items that go bad. Hang the food high enough that they don’t tempt other species, such as raccoons, dogs, cats or, um, goats.
And remember, birds need drinking water in the winter, too. A heated bird bath or dog dish of water placed near the tree attracts more birds.