The Crosby Arboretum holds children’s workshop on making holiday treats for wildlife
Published 4:05 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Visitors to the Crosby Arboretum occasionally ask our recommendation for native plants they can use in their landscape to provide food for birds and wildlife. In addition to hearing our advice, they are also pleased to learn they can choose from a variety of MSU Extension publications in the Arboretum’s Visitors Center to guide them in making their plant selections. While one of the best reasons for using more Mississippi native plants in your yard is their value to local wildlife, we also are aware that many people enjoy offering supplemental food sources such as bird feeders. When I was young, one of my favorite pastimes was waiting for “Chippy the Chipmunk” to make his daily appearance on the rock where my family laid out his breakfast.
Our bird feeder was better than television! It provided us with constant action through a rainbow of visitors, and it was a great way to learn to identify my first birds. Feeders offer us excellent entertainment value, especially during the winter months when migrant songbirds travel through the area. So, if you are not already stocking a feeder, consider this simple way to bring some activity to your yard.
When locating your bird feeding station, there are several things to keep in mind. First, consider the unfortunate fact that our sweet, innocent-appearing kitties are responsible for killing over a half billion birds each year in the U.S.
Simply place your feeder in an area where cats are not able to stalk feeding birds without being seen, such as in a grassy area far from shrubbery. Another benefit of locating your feeder in a turf area is that any sprouting bird seed can be kept down by mowing.
Keep in mind that in areas where large numbers of birds congregate, there is a higher chance for the spread of disease. So make sure to locate your feeder where you will be able to easily access it for regular cleaning. Clean your feeders at least once a month with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts of hot water, or a mild mixture of hot water and unscented dish soap. Rinse with clean water and dry completely before using. Heavily used feeders will require more frequent cleaning.
Need an idea for a Christmas present? Build the nature-lover on your list a birdfeeder! It doesn’t have to be complicated, but if you need directions or inspiration, the Internet abounds with birdfeeder plans. Include a coupon for free mounting services (and pick a place where it can be seen from a comfy chair inside), and a bag of black sunflower seed. Other additions to the theme might be a set of binoculars, a CD of bird songs, or a field guide to birds. The Crosby Arboretum Gift Shop carries a selection of books on bird identification, and attracting backyard wildlife.
Rather than buying a fancy bird seed mix, why not make some treats of your own? Create wildlife “ornaments” to hang from tree branches. Colorful pipe cleaners, or “chenilles”, work well to attach them. Such treats are easy to make, and are great small holiday gifts for your friends and family. Children especially enjoy helping with this type of project.
Whipping up a batch of “bird butter” in your kitchen is very simple. Start by mixing equal parts of peanut butter and solid vegetable shortening. Do not use animal fats such as lard for this, as they go rancid quickly in our warm winters, and this can make birds sick. Then, add some grit such as cornmeal (NOT cornbread mix, which has baking powder in it), whole wheat flour, and whole oats. Now, the only limitation is your imagination!
Common additions are chopped dried fruits such as apples, raisins, cherries, and prunes, shelled sunflower seed, and unsalted chopped nuts such peanuts or pecans. You can even add ground cat food for extra protein! Spoon the bird butter into an onion bag and tie it securely onto a tree trunk (woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches will love this treat), or use it to “stuff” pinecones (which can also be rolled in a bird seed mixture), or fill a citrus “bowl” – use halves of grapefruits or oranges, punch three holes near the rim, and thread chenilles through and secure them into a single strand for easy hanging on a tree branch.
Decorate your yard for the holidays with birds in mind! Come to the Crosby Arboretum this Saturday, December 4, for a fun children’s workshop on making holiday treats for wildlife from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Make peanut butter pinecone feeders and other delights to attract birds to your backyard with Master Naturalist Mary Cordray. All materials will be provided. The cost for members’ children is $2, and $4 for non-members’ children. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian (no charge for adults). Reserve your space for this class by calling 601-799-2311. Visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu for more information on the Arboretum. The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, off I -59 Exit 4, on Ridge Road (between Wal-Mart and I-59.)
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION:
1) There are excellent sites on the Internet to research the threat that housecats and feral cats present to our bird populations. Resolve to make an impact – list simple actions you can take to reduce cat’s predation on birds and then pass this information on to others.
2) Research recipes for creating bird treats online. Select your favorites for holiday gift-giving, and include the recipe so the recipient can continue to make them!