Posts tagged: birds

Don’t Forget The Birds! (Homemade Bird Feeder Ornaments)

By , January 23, 2010 7:37 pm

Today we sit stranded at home after a week of snow days and over four feet of snow!  The hungry birds hop busily about the bird feeders trying to fuel up before a cold night’s sleep.  It seems a good day to write that post about edible ornaments for the wild birds.

As I mentioned not long ago, every Christmas Eve the kids and I sit down and make edible tree decorations to hang on our trees outside as gifts to our wild birds.  We call it our Bird Christmas, but you could have fun making these at any time of year.  The squirrels often make off with many of our treats, but I don’t mind!

(By the way, although wire and dental floss are easy, if I can, I like to use natural cotton yarn or string for hanging since this is recycled by birds in the spring for cozy nests!)

Classic Pinecone Feeders: Send the children out to collect pinecones.  The bigger and more open, the better.  Mix peanut butter and bird seed together in a bowl.  Tie string or yarn around the pinecones to use for hanging (I find that it is a bit less messy to do this step before covering the pinecones in peanut butter).   Roll the pinecones in the mixture using a spoon to push it down between the scales if necessary.


  • No pinecones where you live?  Then use bagels!  Spread with peanut butter, sprinkle on birdseed, and the hole makes them really easy to hang.

Orange Cup Feeders: An adult should prepare the cups. Cut oranges in half and scoop out the insides to set aside for a healthy snack or a fruit salad (a grapefruit knife makes this job easy).  Use a metal skewer, knitting needle, or large darning needle to poke three approximately equidistant holes around the edge of the orange cup, near the top.  Thread string or yarn through the holes forming a hanger made of three strings.  Now for the kid part: Fill the cups with a peanut butter/birdseed mixture.


  • Fill with softened suet and birdseed, although peanut butter is more kid-friendly.  Suet is a great alternative for kids with peanut allergies though.
  • If you have orioles in your area, fill the cups with grape jelly.  Orioles like jelly and they are attracted to the color orange!
  • Easiest option – Don’t hollow out the oranges and just hang orange halves as is.  Orioles, robins, mockingbirds, tanagers, grosbeaks and cardinals like the fruit.

“Bird Tinsel”: Decorate shrubs and trees with strings of cranberries and popcorn (no salt or butter).  Thread the treats using a large needle and string, heavy duty thread, or dental floss.  Our popcorn didn’t string so well this year for some reason (perhaps our needle was not sharp enough) so we ended up just doing cranberries.  Use frozen or fresh berries.  I prefer frozen.  Frozen are less messy to string and thaw quickly once threaded.


  • Try dried fruits such as cherries, craisins, blueberries, papaya, apples or apricots.  How about peanuts in the shell?
  • String fresh orange slices.
  • Try other fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or rasberries.
  • Raisins come in many colors and sizes.  Experiment with different varieties to make pretty patterns.

FUN TIP:  When threading a variety of foods, have your children create repeating patterns.  The garlands will be pretty to look at and your children will exercise their art and reasoning skills!

Bird “Cookie” Ornaments: You can use cookie cutters to make shaped ornaments for your wild birds.  The easiest variety are made with stale bread (although fresh is fine too, but might be harder to cut).  Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes out of the bread.  Poke a hole near the top using a skewer or straw. String yarn, string, dental floss or wire through to make a hanger.  I have even hung these using a wire Christmas ornament hanger poked directly through the bread.  Very easy.


  • If you want to get fancy, you can decorate your “cookies” with peanut butter and sprinkle on birdseed designs.  The seed will stick to the peanut butter and you’ll have instant “fancy” ornaments that the birds will love!
  • For those with peanut allergies, or for a change, brush the bread shapes with egg white.  Sprinkle with bird seeds and bake on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes (this will cause the seeds to stick to the bread).
  • Melt suet, mix with birdseed and pour into greased, shaped molds (or lined muffin tins).  Put in freezer to harden, or outside if it is very cold.  Use a skewer to poke a hole through when they are getting solid but not yet truly hard.  Remove from molds when frozen and hang outside.  (NOTE:  You can use commercially available rendered suet, get some from the butcher, or make your own suet mix from a recipe in the links below.  Be careful of vegetable based fats, they are not supposed to be as healthy for birds.  Also, ordinary animal fats can spoil and melt easily if the temperature is not cold enough.  Think – greasy mess on your deck and birds with indigestion.  More on all these issues here:  The Great Crisco Debate).
  • Try wiping your bread ornament in bacon grease.  I once read somewhere that Blue Jays and squirrels love this.  Perhaps a good way of recycling sink-clogging bacon grease?  The bread plus bacon grease would probably work a lot better in summer than straight bacon grease which melts very easily.  Also, since bacon grease is salty, it is advisable only in moderation and when a fresh supply of water is available nearby.  I have a heated bird bath that is hugely popular with my birds in winter, since it provides fresh water when all other sources are frozen.

Bird Goody Bags: Save your nylon mesh produce bags (the kind fruit, tomatoes, or onions come in).  Stuff them with suet, seeds and dried fruit.  You could even put in shelled peanuts or other nuts, unsalted is best.  Make sure they can fit through the holes – crush them if necessary.  Hang outside.  You can decorate these with fancy bows if you want them to look festive.



Albatross Studies

By , January 30, 2009 8:38 pm

Perhaps my favorite place in the whole world is the South Island of New Zealand.  If you live there, I SO envy you!  What a beautiful place filled with nice people…I can’t say enough wonderful things about it.  The only drawback is that, for most of us in the world, it is a little out of the way.  No, make that VERY MUCH out of the way!  Upon further thought however, perhaps that is what keeps it so lovely and friendly?

Anyhow, I was once fortunate enough to be able to visit New Zealand’s South Island.  I believe it was in May and the leaves were turning color.  There was a fall chill in the air…strange, since we had just left tree buds exploding with flowers and greenery emerging from the sun’s warmth – a promise of lazy summer days was near.

We had many remarkable adventures in southern New Zealand as we explored the glacial and fjord-laden, yet lush, west coast; viewed spectacular snowy mountainscapes of the central region; and enjoyed sheep (many, many, MANY sheep) grazing on peaceful green hills in the eastern portion.

One of the most interesting places that we visited was the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin. Before the visit, I really new very little about these amazing birds, except that according to old sailing lore, it was considered bad luck to see one. Wasn’t an albatross involved in Edgar Allan Poe‘s novel,  The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym?

  • WEBCAM – I was quite excited to discover a live webcam from Dunedin’s Royal Albatross Center.  I found this quite some time ago and have been meaning to write about it.  At the moment, it seems to be showing just a general view of the colony since eggs are still incubating.  However when there are chicks, it is a nest cam!  Remember, that since it is live, you might find it is dark when you go to check it out due to the time difference.  Keep going back, it is worth it.
  • TRACKING – There are quite a few sites out there that show tracking results for albatross that have been fitted with satellite trackers: (2004 data)

2008 Black-Footed Albatross “race”: Check out these amazing results for “the 2008 winner” named Oski.  In the 64 days (s)he was tracked, (s)he traveled a curved path totaling 19,571 km (a straight line distance of 4,943 km) at an average rate of 305 km/day!

The Hawaii Study:  Has a good teaching/classroom component.

  • ADOPTION – If your family or class has the means (or wants to do a few fundraisers), you can even adopt your own albatross.  The cost ($2,500 in 2008) covers the tracking tag and three months of data.  You can choose the name of your bird and follow him/her in real time through online maps.  Cool!  The non-profit sponsor, Oikonos, will also send you a framed photo of your actual bird as well as a map of the completed three month journey.
  • TEACHING – Good classroom tools here.

Oikonos also offers free, downloadable classroom tools about the effects of trash and debris on marine birds.

The Albatross Project

If you do nothing else, watch (and show your kids) this gorgeous video of albatrosses soaring over the ocean, and “playing” in the wind. It is such a beautiful sight that it actually made me cry! Please watch it!

OK, now that you have been moved to tears by these beautiful birds, how about trying to save them? Here are some organizations that would like some help (fundraiser anyone?):

  • GIVING – Organizations that aim to protect the albatross from long-line fishing and ocean trash:


Save the Albatross

Birds Australia

I don’t homeschool, but if I did, I would somehow work in an albatross unit despite the fact that I live in Arizona!  I hope that these resources will inspire somebody somewhere.


PHOTO CREDITS:  Thank you Wikimedia Commons!  For photo credits and licensing information, click on these links:  Squabbling Albatrosses and Soaring Albatross.


Balance – Flying / Balancing Birds (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , January 18, 2009 11:00 pm


Thanks to a suggestion from Meg at Bare Baby Feet, this week’s Unplugged Project theme is balance. We felt “sciency” this week, so my oldest daughter and I scoured our favorite science book but found nothing that sounded fun to her.

I did a few Google searches and happened across this amazing-seeming experiment.  I tried it and then showed it to my children who were very impressed.  As you will see, I tried to make it even more fun for kids by modifying it to make a balance toy:  a flying bird.  Read on for more!


This experiment (which I understand is often shown as a magic trick), involves two identical sharp forks, a real cork (a real one is a bit softer and easier to use than a plastic one), a toothpick, and a glass.  Push the forks into the sides of the cork.

They should be in the middle of the cork, directly opposite each other.  The cork will not be in alignment with the forks.  Try to have the forks at a 90 degree angle to each other, like this:

Push a toothpick into the end of the cork, on the side between the forks (be careful, the toothpick breaks easily, so be gentle). You will have something like this:

Experiment by balancing the toothpick on your finger.  It seems impossible, but once you find the right spot, the forks will just balance.  You can mark that spot on the toothpick with a marker, or just remember about where it was.

Place the balance point of the toothpick on the edge of a glass.  The forks should remain suspended on the side of the glass.  Pretty amazing!

Now, for the grand and very dramatic finale!  Take a match and light the end of the toothpick on fire (yes, I really did say to set fire to the toothpick – YOU, not your kids of course :-)  ).  The flame will move up the toothpick, burning it into nothingness.  The fire will stop when it reaches the rim of the glass.

Does the cork fall down?  NO!  It stays put, hanging by practically nothing on the rim of the glass.  You can even lift it off and place it back on, barely touching the rim, and the whole thing will balance.

Here’s a video I made of the toothpick burning (I have never put a homemade video on my blog before so I really hope it works).  Watch closely and you’ll see that my son tried to knock the whole thing off the glass at the end of the video but it just bobbed up and down and returned to its original position.  Very stable!

How does this seemingly magical “trick” work?  Warning:  science stuff coming up – feel free to skip to the next section if this is all “blah blah blah” to you.

The secret to understanding this experiment involves a study of center of gravity and pivot point.  The center of gravity is “the average location of the weight of the object.” Imagine balancing a see-saw.

But the center of gravity does not necessarily have to be on the object itself.  Here it is actually in the open space between the forks.  This means that, unlike a see-saw, the object is not balancing on its center of gravity (“CG”).  Instead it is balanced on a separate pivot point (the toothpick on the edge of the glass) away from the center of gravity.

We had to arrange the forks so that their mass was a bit lower than the center line of the cork in order to insure that the CG remained lower than the pivot point.  Since the CG is lower, if the fork assembly is displaced, the CG will be raised and gravity will pull it back to equilibrium.  You can see this in my video.  All balance toys have a CG that is below their pivot point.  (NOTE:  I am NOT a scientist! Any physicists out there may disagree with my terminology, etc., but I am trying to make this as simple an explanation as possible.)


Not wanting to use my good forks as permanent bird wings, I had to think of something else. A matching pair of thrift store forks would have been ideal, but the thrift stores were all closed today.  I ended up using a set of small screwdrivers that came from the bargain bin at the local hardware store, and that turned out to be not what my husband expected.  There were four screw drivers, so by using two corks, my daughter and I were each able to make a bird.

We stuck them into the sides of the cork at the appropriate angles (see above).  They were actually easier to get in there than the forks were.

TIP:  Test “fly” your configuration on a glass before proceeding further.  Adjust the screwdrivers (or forks) now if necessary to get it right.  I didn’t check mine before-hand and had to fiddle later after the feathers were on.

To create a good surface for sticking on feathers, I cut construction paper into a symmetrical wing shape.  By folding the paper and cutting double thickness (while keeping a portion of the fold intact) this was easy:

We then covered each screwdriver with a paper wing and stapled it so that the screwdriver was hidden inside.  Staple as close to the screwdriver as you can so the wings stay on.  It doesn’t matter if the staples are in the middle of the paper because you are going to completely cover the paper with feathers.

Paint your cork if you want to.

Next, glue on feathers.  We had “natural-looking” feathers and “fake-looking” feathers, both from Walmart a long time ago.  I opted for a colorful, fake bird.  My daughter chose to be more natural.  Elmer’s white glue didn’t work so well, so I broke out the hot glue gun and we began sticking on feathers.

I found an old jar to be a useful stand for our sticky birds while they dried, as well as for painting the underside of the cork.

After things have dried a bit, you’ll need eyes (googly or beads) and a beak of some sort.  We cut the tips off some new crayons with scissors to make our beaks and they made perfect beaks!  Glue them on with the glue gun.

If you haven’t already, carefully stick a toothpick in the back end of the bird.

Once everything is well dry, you can “fly” your birds on the edge of a glass.  If properly balanced, they’ll bob up and down when touched, but won’t fall off. PLEASE don’t try the flame trick since you don’t want to risk setting all the glue and feathers on fire!


If you did a balance project this week, then please link to your project post in Mr. Linky below. I really prefer links to project posts rather than blogs in general, so that readers will always be able to find your project no matter how far down it is buried in your blog. If you did not do a balance project, please do not link. Read more about how to participate here. We’d love to have you join us!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!


Birds – Nice Nests (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , April 27, 2008 9:10 pm


My two oldest each had lengthy birthday parties to attend this afternoon. So although I had an art project in mind when I chose birds as this week’s Unplugged Project theme, my children’s busy social calendars precluded anything too complicated.

Instead of art this week, we decided to do something I was meaning to do anyhow: put out some nice spring nesting materials.

While most people know that putting out food and water for wild birds is a great way to attract them to your yard, another often overlooked additional method is to provide nesting materials in the spring. As long as you have some good nesting locations (requirements vary by type of bird), giving them handy materials can encourage them to nest in your yard where you can watch the action for several months.

All you’ll need are some empty suet feeder cages, or a few of those nets used to package oranges or potatoes in bulk. We used a big net from some oranges and a few small Baby Bel cheese nets.

We have some high class, five star nesting material: leftover alpaca fleece from Dempsey, an alpaca at our local alpaca ranch.


If you don’t happen to have a local alpaca ranch or any spare alpaca fleece lying around your house, you can also try putting out any of the following:

-dried leaves and twigs
-human or horse hair
-pet fur, sheep’s wool
-dry grass
-plant fluff (ie. cattail fluff)
-yarn or string (cut into 4″ to 8″ pieces)
-thin strips of cloth (1″ x 6″)
-cotton batting
-bark strips
-pine needles
-shredded paper

But don’t put out drier lint (stays soggy, dries hard, can contain chemicals from laundering).

You can prepare the household materials together, or go on a nature hike to collect suitable natural materials.

Place the materials in the nets or cages and hang them around your garden on trees, or deck railings. You can also push loose material into tree crevices or between rocks, and drape yarn and string over bushes. Heavier items that won’t blow away, like twigs, can be put out in small piles around your yard.

Then simply sit back and watch to see if there is any interest in your spring gifts!

For more about this (and my source for much of this information), please see: Attracting Birds With Nesting Material from the fascinating Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.


If you participated in the birds project this week, please put your link in Mr. Linky below (also be sure to leave a comment in case Mr. Linky malfunctions).


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:


Please join us!


Help Support Wildlife – Certify Your Yard!

By , September 21, 2007 6:46 pm



I have written several posts about how to certify your yard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF):

Project: Make Your Yard a Certified Wildlife Habitat (July 5, 2007)

Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Great Nature Slideshow (July 14, 2007)

Another Backyard Wildlife Slideshow (July 20, 2007)

The other day I just got an NWF email saying that they have almost reached their goal of certifying 100,000 habitats. The NWF needs to certify only 5,000 more yards to get there!

If you have been thinking about doing it (or even if the whole concept is new to you), now is the time. You don’t have to have a grand estate. All you need are the four basic habitat elements: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.

Once you go through the easy online process to certify, you will be eligible to buy the cool sign like ours in the photo. That way, neighbors and passers-by will know that you care enough about wildlife to provide a sustainable habitat in your own yard. You’ll also help spread the word to others about the existence of this great program.

Having your kids help you certify your yard is a wonderful way to teach them about the needs of wildlife. Two Unplug Your Kids readers even created online nature slideshows of their habitats. You can view them by clicking these links: Meeyauw’s slide show and Tiffany’s slide show (Nature Mom). If you feel like making your own slideshow, please let me know and I would love to link to it.

So, click here to get started today!

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