Winter is a tough time to be a bird. The seeds, nuts, and berries that were so plentiful in the fall are now scarce, and what few remain are often covered in a sheen of ice. Insects have vanished, and earthworms slumber beneath the frost line. Hungry birds can only hope that crafty families will come to their rescue.
My family loves the annual ritual of rolling peanut-butter smeared pinecones in birdseed, but this winter I decided we needed some variations on tradition. Turns out, crafty winter birdfeeder ideas abound. For a particularly tactile family craft, combine ¾ cups of flour, ½ cup of water, 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin, and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch in a large bowl. Add 4 cups of birdseed, mix well, and pour onto a greased cookie sheet. (Little hands will enjoy patting the mixture flat.) Use cookie cutters to cut shapes, and poke a hole in each shape with a straw. Within 24 hours, the treats will be dry enough to string and hang.
If a cold snap is predicted, try spreading birdseed, cranberries, and raisins in a bundt pan. After covering the treats with water and freezing, unmold the icy ring and hang it with ribbon from a sturdy tree branch.
Very young children will enjoy spreading peanut butter on a toilet paper ring and rolling it in birdseed. A cousin to the peanut butter pinecone, this easy feeder can be popped directly onto a branch—no strings attached.
A special note to dog owners: make sure your birdfeeders hang well above Fido’s reach. I forgot this rule of thumb last year, and before long the family beagle was found happily gnawing on a pinecone. A telltale smear of peanut butter coated his muzzle.
To get the most out of your feeders, hang them from branches that are visible from your windows. Supply children with bird guides and a pair of inexpensive binoculars. They might want to keep a winter bird journal, sketching and identifying the various birds that visit their feeders. There’s nothing like a bright splash of color from a cardinal’s feathers or a robin’s red breast to brighten even the dreariest winter day.
Looking for more ways to connect with nature this winter? Nature preschool and homeschool programs begin in early February at Adkins Arboretum. Click here to learn more.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator