Dec­o­rat­ing a tree for wildlife

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - OPINION - KIM­BERLY J. EPP

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.

KIM­BERLY J. EPP/SUB­MIT­TED

Dec­o­rat­ing a spruce tree for wildlife.

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