Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great New Holiday Tradition!

by Linda Pascatore
©1996 The Gobbler: Winter Crystal

Last Christmas we visited a home with a beautiful tree decorated with nuts and dried fruit. The best thing about using this type of decoration is that you can share your Christmas tree with the birds and squirrels after the holiday. They'll appreciate the midwinter treats when you put your tree out after Christmas. All edible decorations should be hung with biodegradable materials, such as cotton string or thread.

Some birds, such as Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds, will enjoy apples and oranges. Cut the fruit slices horizontally, perpendicular to the core or stem. Then dry them either in a food dehydrator or in a warm oven. Hang them on the tree for a lovely, natural decoration.

Strings of popcorn and cranberries are a traditional favorite, for both humans and birds. Buy a bag of fresh cranberries in the produce department of the grocery store. With a needle and thread, string four or five pieces of popcorn, then one cranberry for a colorful red and white pattern. This is a good activity for children and can be done while watching a Christmas video or TV special.

Everyone knows that squirrels love nuts. Buy mixed nuts in the shell for a variety of shapes and textures. Use a drill to make a hole completely through the nut. Then feed a string through the nut and make a knot at the bottom. Hang individually on the tree rather than stringing them, and later a squirrel can pull them down one at a time to eat them.

Cut sections of corn on the cob also make an interesting decoration for your tree, and will be appreciated later by the squirrels. You can get dried corn on the cob from a local farmer, at an farm store, or at some hardware stores. Colorful Indian corn could also be used. Cut the corn in one to two inch sections, drill a hole, thread a string through, tie a knot, and hang.

After Christmas, leave all natural decorations on the tree, whether you have a bagged balled tree to plant or a live cut tree, and put it out for our feathered and furry friends. If you use an artificial tree, natural decorations can be hung outside on any tree after you take the Christmas tree down.

There are some bird foods that either won't keep indoors or don't look that good on your Christmas Tree, but would still make a great treat for the birds. These could be used to decorate a separate "Wildlife Christmas Tree" outdoors, or they could be hung on the Christmas tree when you take it out. Children love to help make these Christmas presents for the birds and animals.

One of these treats is bird seed pine cones Make a mixture of peanut butter and cornmeal and stuff it into a pine cone, then roll it in birdseed. You can also make bird sandwiches. Use stale bread or dry out slices of fresh bread in the oven. Spread peanut butter on the bread and sprinkle with birdseed, then punch a small hole in the bread to hang it. Bird pudding consists of suet or peanut butter mixed with birdseed which is hardened and hung out in a net bag.

Other foods can be strung to hang on the tree. These include peanuts in the shell, raisins, and sunflower seeds. Wild foods can be collected in autumn to use; such as whole sunflowers, berries, rose hips, hawthorn haws, and dried seed pods. The smaller items can be placed in a net bag first.

Small bowls to hold birdseed can be made from orange or grapefruit peels. Cut the fruit in half and peel the flesh out to make the bowl. Punch four holes around the edges and tie with string. After hanging on the tree, fill with birdseed. Millet or bird seed can also be sprinkled on the ground around the tree for ground-feeding birds. The seeds that drop will nourish these and other small creatures like field mice. If you put corn out, you might even attract wild turkey.

Shallow pans of fresh water will also be appreciated by birds in winter. The water has to be replaced often because it freezes. An old frying pan works well for this, because any ice can be easily turned out.

Making a wildlife Christmas tree is a great family activity for the holiday season. You'll spend many enjoyable hours watching the birds and squirrels feast on your Christmas gifts to them.


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