Winter birds benefit from food put out at Christmas, and bird watchers enjoy watching them feed. An evergreen tree is traditional, of course, for a Christmas tree, but a shrub’s bare twigs or the low branches of a deciduous tree will work too. The birds won’t mind! When deciding what to put on the tree, focus on high energy foods that will help birds stay warm in cold weather.
Good Food for Wild Birds
Items that are high in fat and carbohydrate provide lots of calories. These are good choices for wild birds:
- Unsalted nuts and nut butters
- Pieces of roasted potato
- Mild cheeses
- Leftover Christmas cake
- Mince pies (made with suet)
- Suet balls
- Buttered popcorn (unsalted butter)
- Fresh coconut
- Dried fruit, cranberries, orange sections, melon
- Dried seed heads from grasses and wildflowers such as goldenrod, sunflowers, mullein, black-eyed Susan
- Breakfast cereals
Make Edible Tree Decorations for Birds
There are lots of creative ways to decorate a bird’s Christmas tree. Give it some colour with bright yarns; hang edible ornaments from branches. Try these ideas:
- Make a garland with strong thread and cranberries, stale popcorn, cereal Os, chunks of fresh coconut, cheese dice, roasted potato chunks, roasted peanuts in the shell, raisins, or other dried fruit.
- Use red yarn to tie bundles of dried seed heads of wild plants and hang them from branches.
- Make hanging ornaments with orange halves, small suet balls, chunks of roasted potato.
- Fill large pine cones with nut butter, tie red yarn around the top, and hang them in the tree.
- Hang little baskets (available at craft stores) full of shredded cheese, Christmas cake crumbs, or leftover mince pie.
Christmas Bird Treats to Avoid
Some of the foods we enjoy aren’t good for birds, and some are downright toxic. Don’t feed these things to wild birds:
- Salted nuts and other salty snacks
- Raw beans
- Bread (bread won’t hurt birds but it’s not high energy food so it isn’t a good choice)
- Anything moldy or spoiled
- Meat, which is likely to attract other animals
Extra Care for Winter Birds
Where temperatures stay below 4 Celsius (39 F) and the weather is dry, edible tree decorations will keep for a few days—longer if the weather is below freezing—but remember your offerings will spoil eventually. Don’t put out more than your garden birds can eat in a short time and dispose of uneaten decorations before they go bad.
Open water may be hard to find in deep winter, but birds need it as much as we do. Try to provide a source of clean fresh water along with the food.
For people who enjoy garden birds, decorating a tree with edible decorations is fun way to keep them fed at Christmas.