The people of Norway and Sweden have for centuries observed the quaint custom of preparing a Christmas tree for the birds. It is made from a sheaf of choice grain which has been carefully stored from the time of the harvest. The day before Christmas, the grain is tied to the end of a long pole, carried into the yard, and placed near the house to attract the birds who, they believe, bring happiness and good fortune to those within. No family would consider celebrating its own Christmas until the birds had first been provided for.
Could you and your children find a more delightful way to express the spirit of Christmas than to follow these customs?
I am sure that the children and even Dad will want to help make the trimmings and set up the tree. Don't be surprised if fixing the birds' tree becomes as happy a time as trimming the family one. Perhaps the neighbor's children will be so fascinated that they, too, will want to decorate a similar tree. So your kind deeds will never end and each person will be made richer through your thoughtfulness.
Choosing Your Bird Tree
The tree you use need not be a perfect specimen. One that has some broken ends or missing branches will do nicely. Simply trim the broken ends. As for the open spaces, the birds will appreciate them, for then they can watch the neighbor's cat if she strolls their way.
You can improvise a tree from sturdy bare branches cut from a roadside bush. Place the branches in a flower pot filled with sand and arrange them to resemble a tree. Tie together in several places to avoid their toppling over.
The kind of tree you make is not nearly as important as its location. You will want to watch the birds as they feed, so make sure their tree is placed where you can have an unobstructed view. I have mine on a terrace directly out from our dining-room windows.
You will, of course, plan to watch the birds while you breakfast on Christmas morning, so I suggest you give them their tree several weeks in advance, if you are placing it in a location where food has not been offered before. Birds are timid creatures and must be wooed with gentle love and
patience, but once you have extended hospitality, they will return again and again, even year after year.
Decorating the Bird Tree
Trimmings may be prepared well in advance of Christmas if they are carefully covered and stored in a cool place where rodents and animals cannot get at them.
The food requirements of the birds are simple. They require and relish peanut butter which furnishes the butter fat content needed to retain body temperatures.
Tie a string around the stem end of a pine cone; allow extra string for hanging. Make a mixture of three parts peanut butter to one part corn meal. Mix thoroughly and spread on the pine cone. (The corn meal keeps the peanut butter from sticking to the roof of the mouth. )
Prepare a suet mixture as follows: Purchase some suet from the butcher; cut in small pieces, and place in afrying pan over a low flame until rendered (which means fry until the solid turns to a liquid). Let cool, then add a good quality of bird seed. Mix and pour into aluminum wrap dishes, walnut shells, coconut shells, or plastic cups. (First bore holes on four sides of the containers, and run cord through the holes to form a handle for hanging.) Cover and store in a cool place until ready for use.
Strings of popcorn, raisins, and cranberries will furnish food and look attractive draped around the tree. Run a large-eyed darning needle and string through each item until you have length enough to circle the tree as many times as desired.
To attract the downy woodpeckers, the white breasted nut-hatch, the chickadee and the brown creeper, place large chunks of suet in a holder made from hardware cloth. Cut a rectangle 12" long x 6" wide. Fold one end to within 2" of the other end; bend each of the two front top points over and
around the under piece to form a pocket; press tight to the under side. Tack or tie to the tree trunk. Fill the pocket with suet.
Sunflower seeds are a special favorite of the white breasted nut-hatch, cardi
nals and the chickadees. Be sure to place special servings of these around the tree to attract these fascinating creatures. Tuck pieces of old bread and cake among the branches for the blue jays. They love it. Many birds such as the wood thrush, towie, cardinal and the robin would appreciate having their food served on the ground, as they are primarily ground feeders.
Remember to offer "seconds" once the birds have accepted the invitation to visit your home.
Water is a necessary part of a bird's requirements and in winter the streams are too full and fast for them to drink from. A thoughtful host will provide a drinking fountain made from an aluminum foil dish not deeper than two inches. Sprinkle a few pebbles on the bottom for birds to stand on. Place near the tree. Avoid using metal as the feet of the birds will freeze fast to it.
Decorate the tree as artistically as possible, for you will spend a great deal of time looking at it.