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Winter Foods & Holiday Decorations for Wildlife
By Mike Pratt, Director of Wildlife Services
Birds need protein, fat and carbohydrates in the winter. Both birds and squirrels have high metabolisms and need loads of calories to help stay warm. By using natural elements for winter and holiday décor, we can provide healthy food and shelter materials for birds and other animals during the cold months. As an added benefit, by bringing nature closer to our homes, we are able to observe and appreciate our wild neighbors.
Below are some fun projects that your whole family can take part in, plus a few dos and don'ts to get us started.
A Few Dos and Don'ts
If you're making your own suet feeders, please keep in mind that not just any fat should be used. It should only be rendered beef fat - no pork, shortening, butter, margarine or any other type of fat.
Do not spread peanut butter on a live tree or shrub. Squirrels will chew through the bark as they try to get at the last of the peanut butter.
Use natural products. Glues are toxic to birds and animals.
All edible decorations should be hung with biodegradable materials, such as cotton string or thread.
Cookie Cutter Feeders
Cut out fun shapes in stale (but not moldy) grained bread. Attach a string through the center of the bread and spread both sides with peanut butter. Sprinkle with fresh wild bird seed. Hang from a tree.
Coat a bagel with peanut butter, roll it in mixed birdseed and hang it on a tree branch.
Fruits are a great high-sugar winter treat for birds. They're also good for birds that migrate such as warblers, thrushes, wrens, tanagers and grosbeaks. Apples, pears, oranges, grapes, bananas and raisins are all good. The fruit pieces or halves can be hung, placed on a platform bird feeder or on a long stick like a big shish-kebab. Cranberries can be strung using a needle and thread and hung outside in the trees.
Try covering whole fruits such as apples with peanut butter and bird seed mix. Another option is to stick berries or seeds through with toothpicks and insert into the apple. If squirrels can get to the hanging fruit, do not use the tooth picks.
Pine Cone Feeder
Tie a piece of string to the pine cone to make a hanger. Smear a mixture of peanut butter and cornmeal on the pine cone, getting it deep into the cracks. Then roll the pine cone in bird seed, which will stick to the peanut butter mixture. You can also add cereal, cranberries, nuts, seed or any combination. Hang the completed cone outdoor tree branches.
Sunflower hanging ornaments
Grow sunflowers over the summer and hang the seeded centers on the tree branches in the winter.
Nut and corn ornaments
Hang sections of dried yellow and colorful Indian corn on the tree by drilling a hole all the way through (not lengthwise) and hang with cotton string.
Hang nuts in a shell individually on a tree rather than making a garland. The squirrels can pull them down one at a time to eat them.
Snowman bird feeder
When the snow falls make it a project with the children to create a bird feeder snowman. Make corn cob lips, suet ball eyes and buttons. Sunflower centers on the end of branches for arms and hands. Millet makes great hair. Sunflower centers also make great earmuffs.
Wreaths and Swags
For a simple wreath made of evergreens, cut a pile of sprigs all to the same length. Stretch a coat hanger into a circle, keeping the hook at the top to hang the wreath. Start with one sprig, hold it close to the stretched hanger and wire the two together by wrapping craft wire around the sprig a couple of times. Lay a new sprig on top of the wired green. Wrap wire to the stem and repeat the process, continuing around the hanger, until the circle is completely filled with greens. This basic set of directions can work with any wreath material. To the wreath add seeds, pods, berries, nuts, fruit pieces, acorn, nuts and pinecones.
With a needle and long piece of string, string seeds, pods, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn (no butter) and cranberries. Alternate among the branches with hanging feeders or fruit ornaments. String Cheerios (or other round cereal with a hole) on a string and coat with peanut butter. Use a sturdy needle and thread and string peanuts in their shell to make a garland of peanuts. Drape the garlands along tree branches and fences.
Birds need water in the Winter. Provide a fresh bath of water daily.
Placing the Christmas tree in the yard at the end of the holiday season makes a great birdfeeder and provides natural cover from the winter weather. Decorate it with cranberries and pine cone feeders. It is not recommended to spread peanut butter on branches because birds and squirrels may get it on their fur and feathers.
Leave summer plants unpruned
Leave your plants unpruned and let them go to seed to provide food for the birds. Downed trees, old tree trunks and branches become places for bugs to hide thus providing insects for the birds as well as giving them lichen for their nests and giving them some shelter. Leave your old leaves and branches. You don't have to let your entire yard look like a wild place you can create areas where you pile the leaves and branches.
Recycle and save money
Milk cartons and well-rinsed detergent bottles that have been decorated by the children make great feeders to hold birdseed and fruit.
Onion bags make great suet feeders and hold fruit as well.
Cleaned rind of grapefruit and oranges make great bowl feeders. Cut the fruit in half and peel out the flesh to make a bowl. Punch four holes around the edges and tie with cotton string. After hanging on the tree fill with mixed seed or thistle.
Small log with drilled holes make great feeders. Hang the log and fill the holes with suet or peanut butter mixed with cornmeal and oatmeal.
Weeds that still have their seeds intact can be hung in trees and are great, cheep natural foods.