Decorating a tree for wildlife
Are you looking for a fun project this weekend that the whole family can be involved in? Perhaps thinking ahead to decorating that large spruce tree in your front yard; the one that seems to chirp and chatter endlessly with chickadees and squirrels? The beginning of winter is a crucial food-storing and fat consumption period for small creatures like these. In fact, every waking hour tiny birds are seeking, consuming, and caching food for a later time. There’s a way you can help them, plus decorate your tree in a way to leave little to no waste behind.
This is a large project, which makes it a perfect after-dinner family fun affair. Simple planning, ahead of time, will ensure you have all of the materials and ingredients needed.
Food high in fat such as suet (beef fat) is an important ingredient that will attract many small birds including black-capped chickadees, white and red-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers — and possibly even respolls and grosbeaks. Ground suet can be ordered at any butcher shop. It is then rendered (melted) into suet moulds and hung on your tree. These suet holders can be bought at the store, but there are many other ways to offer the suet and other treats to our urban furry and feathered friends.
A grapefruit can be halved, emptied, and then twine can be placed through it for hanging. After the twine is placed through the grapefruit half, fill it with your suet treat. Freeze, then hang. Once emptied, it can be filled again.
Large pine cones can be tied with yarn or twine, then carefully spread peanut butter within. Have a plateful of black oilseed (can be bought in bulk and is high in fat content), tiny pieces of dried eggs shells (as calcium), dried fruits and pine nuts. Roll the cone around on the plate, and ‘presto’, your first ornament for wildlife is ready to be hung on your tree. Using yarn to hang old bagels covered with peanut butter and seeds, allows the yarn to be left in the spring — to be used by mother birds, like robins for their nests.
Empty juice cartons can also be reused and made into feeders. Place stones at the bottom so that the carton doesn’t sway too much in the wind. Keep the cap for filling, and do so easily with a funnel. Place a stick through two holes near the top, and use twine to hang it with. Cut either two or all four of the bottom corners of the carton. Make two holes so as to push through two twigs through as perches. Make sure and keep it filled throughout the winter.
Don’t forget the water for your chattery friends. Heated bird baths or dog bowls work well. Placing a football in a small pond will keep part of the water from freezing.
Rendered suet treats can include seeds, dried fruits, dried eggshells, honey, niger and other seed types. Put wax paper into the moulds first. Once the moulds are partly hardened, place a large rossoti noodle through — which is where the ornament can be hung through with yarn.
Suet bird cookies can also be shaped into Christmas ornaments. They don’t differ much from sugar cookies, except skip the sugar and use suet instead of lard, and add egg shells and seeds. The birds love them so much — I have had many a chickadee and redpoll curiously come to feed off my hand. Don’t forget some peanuts to keep those curious squirrels happy.
Did you know that small urban birds such as the chickadee must eat one third of their body weight each day? What they don’t eat, they cache for feeding at a later time and amazingly still remember where most of them have been placed. Night is an especially crucial time, as temperatures plummet and darkness falls. Huddling together in family groups in tree hollows conserves up to 90 per cent of their energy. In fact, to conserve energy even further, they will lower their body temperatures during long frigid nights into a state of near-hypothermia, just heating the core while keeping the beak and feet at cooler temperatures. It really is a fascinating tale of survival. Your offerings of seeds, nuts and suet greatly enhances their chances of making it through what is to be undoubtedly a long and snowy winter.
For complete recipe ideas, visit our Facebook site at the Moose Jaw Nature Society. If you wish to come out to our program, Decorating a Tree for Wildlife, on Nov. 27 at 6:00 pm at the Moose Jaw Public Library (upstairs), feel free to bring any added ingredients such as bagels, seeds and old fruit. Also please bring a flashlight for the decorating part. The program is free of charge, and we welcome anyone interested.
On Dec. 2 of last year, we were saddened at the sudden loss of our president at the time, Russ McKnight. He did a lot for the community and was involved in many groups such as kinsmen, local theatre and bands. He thrived in volunteerism and multiculturalism, which is partly what makes our city so great. We will hold a moment of silence for him on Monday.
Decorating a spruce tree for wildlife.