After the presents are gone, your once-festive Christmas tree may seem like a has been waiting to be sent to the pulp-mill. But you and the children can give your tree a new lease on life and treat neighborhood birds to a holiday feast as well. Decorating a Christmas tree for the birds is a lovely ancient Swedish. custom that is readily updated to include the virtues of recycling.
While the spirit of Christmas giving still lingers, re-deck your tree with edible ornaments like suet cakes, easily made from household scraps. Set it up in the yard in full view of a window so one and all can watch your feathered friends feast.
Evergreens make perfect bird Christmas trees, according to Audubon Society naturalist Chris Fleming, because they probice some cover from predators while the birds eat.
"Birds that stay around have a harder time in the winter," Fleming said. "Especially those -- like woodpeckers -- that eat insects for fat." So if you're going to lend a helping hand be generous with suet, bacon grease and peanut better, all excellent sources of the energy and warmth birds need in winter months. "They really like peanut butter," Fleming says. Sunflower seeds are also a good choice because they provide protein as well as fat, but nearly any leftovers can be transformed into aesthetic ornithological eats.
Be aware that your guests of honor will face some competition from squirrels, rabbits and raccoons for their Christmas treats. Give the birds the edge literally by hanging your edible ornaments from long wire as far out on branches as possible. The birds, unlike the heavier uninvited guests, don't need much to hold onto while they eat -- although Fleming recalls once seeing a squirrel hang by its feet to reach a suet cake. Birds that feed on the ground, like jays and cardinals, just have to fend for themselves, but they're used to it. "People may get discouraged, but they just have to accept that squirrels get hungry in the winter, too," said Fleming, who has a separate squirrel feeder in her yard.
Be patient. It may take the birds a while to discover your treasure tree if you've never feted them before. "It's just as if there was a new restaurant in town. you wouldn't know about it right away, either," she said. Most birds dine in the wee morning hours, so set your alarm and remember to keep the cat in. Also, a one-day feast is fine but if you keep your tree stocked for any length of time, you'd better be a good host all winter, since the birds will start to depend on you.
Here's a sampling from the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation:
String ropes of cranberries, popcorn, cheese cubes, peanuts and stale-bread stars (cut with a cookie cutter).
Dip a pine cone in peanut butter, then roll it in birdseed
Hang apples, carrots and Indian corn with ribbon-wrapped wire.
Scoop out the pulp from half an orange or grapefrruit, fill with suet or seeds (or both) and attach with three strings tied together at the ends.
Cut a mesh sack, such as onions come in, into small squares. Put suet in each square'd center and knot at the top. Slide a wire hanger hook through the knot and hang the pavkage high enough so dogs can't reach it.
Mix up a batch of suet cakes: equal parts of sugar syrup (three parts water and one part sugar boiled together) formed into balls with nuts, seed or breadcrumbs and chilled. Tie with string and/or ribbon.
Rinse an empty milk carton and reseal the top with staples. Cut open one side about an inch from the bottom and fill with seed. Suspend with wire hanger hook.
Depending on their beaks, some eat fat, some eat seeds and some eat both. Here's who you're likely to see and what they'll concume:
Bluejay -- seeds and suet
Carolina chickadee -- seeds and suet
Cardinal -- seeds
Cedar waxwing -- berries
Dawny woodpecker -- suet
Goldfinch -- seeds
Evening grosbeak -- seeds
Hairy woodpecker -- suet
House finch -- seeds
Purple finch -- seeds
Red-bellied woodpecket -- suet
Slate-colored junco -- seeds
Sparrow -- seeds
Tufted titmouse -- seeds and suet
White-breasted nuthatch -- suet and. seeds.