Santa is making his list—what do birds want for Christmas? There are all sorts of recipes and projects that are meant for wild birds, but so often they’re actually meant to keep us birdwatchers entertained. No one asked the birds for their opinion.
If you really want to please the birds, how about…
A special treat to eat
One year I received a pine cone, cleverly rolled in suet and peanut butter, then in millet. The greasy mixture held (most of) the seed in place. It was adorned with a ribbon for hanging outside as a treat for the birds.
The birds ignored it. It wasn’t a lack of birds. My feeders were crowded with the regular crowd. No, the problem was that most of the millet at our house is eaten by sparrows, and sparrows are ground (or platform) feeders. They won’t hang on to a pine cone to get their dinner. Neither will doves, my other millet fans. The gift was cute and creative, but it didn’t take into consideration the needs of the birds.
Instead, I guarantee the birds will eat a block of suet, black oil sunflower seeds, mealworms (if you can keep them from freezing), and peanuts. If you really want to hang a pinecone, soften a block of suet and press it into the cone’s “petals.” Be prepared to battle squirrels, however.
A place to take shelter
This time of year cold winds whistle though the bare branches, leaving birds no place to go to keep warm. You can recycle any extra branches you trim off your Christmas tree by making a pile to shelter the birds. When the holidays are over, add the rest of the tree’s branches. The birds won’t care how dry the needles are! Just be sure to remove all the decorations first.
If you want to do something fancier and more permanent, invest in a roosting box. Similar to a nest box in construction, roosting boxes provide a warm, snug home for shivering birds. The access hole is at the bottom, to keep heat trapped inside. Numerous dowels provide roosts for perhaps a half-dozen chickadees. Shared body heat and shelter from the wind can mean the difference between death and survival when weather turns extreme.
Wild birds can and do eat snow and ice to stay hydrated, but thawing that water uses precious calories. Besides, snow isn’t always available in our dry winters.
Outfit your yard with an electric bird bath and watch the birds flock to the open water. My bath is bolted to a balcony railing, plugged in with an exterior extension cord that runs under the deck boards. It keeps the water at 40° F—not exactly a hot tub, but warm enough to keep ice away. If I’m away and all the water evaporates, the heater automatically shuts off to prevent problems.
If your budget doesn’t include an electric version, a simple plastic saucer will do, but you’ll have to dump the ice and replace it with water every day, or even more often if the weather is extra cold. (I use a saucer that is meant to catch drips under potted plants.) Make sure it isn’t too deep, and that the bottom is rough enough so the birds’ little feet don’t slip.
They may not write you a thank you note, but whatever you choose to give your birds for Christmas, you can be sure they’ll appreciate your efforts!