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.
- Make a Spring Bird Goody Bag and stuff it with nesting material.