Photo by Dawn Combs
Our farm is named after the beautiful mockingbird, which tends to be quite territorial about the property where it nests. Spring and summer, therefore, is not the time for us to see a wide range of bird visitors. Winter is more promising, as the mockingbird either migrates a bit south or uses her energy more wisely by keeping warm instead of chasing off intruders.
We do many things in our herb gardens to encourage the birds while the weather is warm, but what do we do when the weather has turned cold and we’re no longer working the soil?
Decorate the Tree
One of our holiday traditions is to decorate a tree outside. I like the feeling that while we make merry indoors, our bird friends are able to have some presents, as well. On New Year’s Eve we make sure to get our tree taken down indoors owing to family tradition. The tree that is outside for the birds, however, continues on.
Treats for Birds
Over the years we’ve used strings of popcorn, orange halves and peanut-butter pinecones to decorate our outdoor tree. The main consideration is that the birds need rich food, high in fat and protein, during winter. They also need a good salt supply and open water. When making strings of popcorn garland, it is important to pop the popcorn in a good fat supply and to salt it. Alternatively, you can toss it in peanut butter before stringing.
A couple weeks ago, as we were preparing for Christmas, the kids and I sat one day and made ornaments for the outside tree. The birds really appreciate it if you choose an evergreen that is near a clearing so they can see any predators approaching. In our case, we have farm cats. We are careful about the trees we select for this type of decorating. This year, we settled on peanut-butter coated pinecones and orange cups. My kids are 2 and 4, so we keep our decorations simple. After coating the pinecones, we dipped them in sunflower seeds. We added a string for hanging, and voila!
Planting For Winter
For us, deciding what plants to feed the birds is more a question of what not to pull. Weeds are so important to us on our farm. They are full of more vitamins and minerals than are typically available in the cultivated vegetables. Once these weeds have gone to seed, they also provide winter feed for the birds without any intervention from us. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), aster (Asteraceae), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), coneflower (Echinacea spp.), black-eyed Susan (Rudebeckia spp.), and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carrota) are some of our favorite seed heads to leave waving in the winter breezes. All of these plants also happen to be very useful medicine for our human and animal family.
We have an area that is specifically set up for our bird-viewing pleasure just off the patio doors, but the places most frequented on our property are the weedy areas that we do not clear. Our farm echoes with bird calls even on the coldest days, and that’s worth the time and energy it takes to decorate an outdoor tree!