This is for the Birds: A Midwinter Tree

December 26th, 2008 by Patti P

Making a feast tree for the birds and small woodland animals that live by our home has always been one of my children’s most treasured holiday activities. They love the whole process—making the food, decorating the tree and then watching through the kitchen window as the little animals eat their treats. We usually make our tree for the birds out of our own Christmas tree after we have dismantled it, but most any tree will do. We drag it outside to a sheltered spot in the backyard where we can unobtrusively observe the animals’ doings and then decorate it with all kinds of yummy bird and squirrel treats. This is a fun activity that preschoolers manage with ease. In case you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here are a few ideas on how to decorate your tree.

  • Strings of Popcorn—All you need to make this welcome delicacy is plenty of freshly popped corn (omit the butter and salt) and a needle and thread for each person. Knot the thread and then carefully push the needle through the popcorn. Some young children have trouble making these, as the popcorn needs to be threaded with a light touch or it tends to crumble. You’ll have to judge your child’s dexterity level. Some enjoy this activity greatly; others find making popcorn strands tedious. Our family has found that if we appoint one person to read aloud and have the rest of the family stringing, our popcorn strings grow much longer with much less effort. We have tried stringing cranberries but the animals in our area, anyway, don’t seem to care for them.
  • Peanut Butter Pinecones—This treat is always the first to be eaten by the birds at our house. They’re simple to make and a big hit with the preschool crowd. Be forewarned, these can be a bit messy to make but are always worth the effort. You’ll need pinecones (most any kind will do, the more open the better), string, peanut butter, birdseed and sunflower seeds. To begin, knot a string loop on the cone so it is easy to hang the finished product on the tree. Next, mix the seeds together and pour them into a shallow pan (a pie pan or a small roasting pan will both work well). Slather pinecones with peanut butter, using a knife or your fingers to gently push the peanut butter into the cracks. I tend to assign this task to the oldest child, if she is willing, since it is the messiest and small children have trouble getting enough peanut butter on the cone. If there are no older children available, an adult might want to do this. And last, roll the cone in the seeds, trying to get as many seeds as possible onto the peanut butter. (Many two-year-olds are fabulous at this messy task!) It should look like one big blob of seeds when you are done.
  • Fruit Strands—Slice apples and oranges in rounds and string like the popcorn.
  • Suet Balls—For this nutritious tidbit, ask the butcher for suet. You will need to have a few empty paper egg cartons on hand, as well as some birdseed and a bit of yarn or string. To begin, melt the suet over low heat (be very careful with the hot fat and young children). Add in an equal amount of birdseed and stir. Gently stir the suet-birdseed mixture as you pour it into the egg holes in the egg carton. Make a loop of yarn or string and place it into the melted suet mixture. (This is a great job for three- or four-year-olds.) When the suet cools, the yarn will become the handle with which you hang the suet on the tree. Some people like to add some peanut butter to this mixture for extra nutrition. Allow the suet to harden and then gently peel away the egg carton to hang the suet balls on the tree.
  • Once you have gathered enough goodies to decorate your tree, make it an event. (For inspiration read Night Tree by Eve Bunting. After you decorate your tree, don’t forget the ground-feeding birds. Leave a few peanut butter pinecones and some extra birdseed on the ground for them to nibble, too.

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