Dear Bird Folks,
Instead of Christmas lights, I would like to decorate the spruce tree in our yard with some treats for the birds. We used to string popcorn, cranberries, and peanuts in the shell. Are those things good for the birds and do you have any other ideas?
– Marcia, E. Orleans
Great Idea Marcia,
Stringing treats for the birds is a fun family activity and Christmas is the only time of the year where you can get away with that kind of peculiar past-time. Any other time of the year you might get beaten up if you suggested spending a Saturday night running thread through hunks of food to be hung out in the yard. But in December, we all have that “Santa Claus is watching you” paranoia in the back of our minds and we don’t dare say no to even the most ridiculous activities.
Of the three things that you mentioned, peanuts are the big winner. Blue Jays love peanuts and the squirrels are happy to take a few too. Now before you have a fit and scream “I’d rather eat glass than give $1.19-a-pound peanuts to a rotten squirrel,” think about who is watching you. So, you better not shout or pout. Popcorn is fine. Again, Jays like it and Crows, too. The losers here are the cranberries. Most birds, like most people, have little interest in uncooked and unsweetened cranberries. Now, the bog people are hurting this year so I don’t want to talk you out of using cranberries, use tons of them. Just know that you should use them only for color and to stain your fingers red while you thread them on the string.
Better choices are fruit or dried apples and raisins. Robins, and even bluebirds, will eat them when the natural food supply is low. Another good item to string is pieces of doughnuts. Many birds love doughnuts. You could attract Chickadees, Nuthatches and maybe even a cop or two. I’ve heard of people stringing things like Cheerios and other kinds of cereal with a built-in hole. I guess that’s okay, although I’m not sure what you would attract, maybe a starling or toddler. But you shouldn’t use sugar-coated cereal. Bird’s teeth are extremely prone to cavities. Although Fruit Loops would be fine to use if you have Toucans in your neighborhood.
Stringing an assortment of food together can be a real nice Christmas Eve family activity. At our house we used to each make our own string of food for the birds. Everyone would try to outdo each other and come up with the fanciest string of treats. Then we would bundle up, go out and decorate a small pine. Some years it would be snowing and other years we’d have the full moon to light our way. We would be out in the cold night air decorating that tree for hours, or until the guy who owned the tree came home and chased us out of his yard.
So go ahead, Marcia, adorn your tree with whatever you want and be creative. Don’t worry too much about what you use, the birds will only eat what they want and leave the rest for some confused passerby to figure out who put all that junk in the tree. However, never use fruitcake. The birds won’t eat it and you’ll just end up attracting my Aunt Blanche.