One snowy January in my childhood, we had the bright idea of taking the Christmas tree out to the middle of the back yard after the holidays. We pounded it in next to the birdfeeder and hung seed and suet treats in its branches. The birds loved sheltering in it all winter, but next summer we did not love running over those sharp fallen needles with our bare feet -- ouch!
My father came up with a different use for our old Christmas tree that made both us and the birds happy. We have a bird feeder that he made for us 5 years ago. Every winter, we hang it from a shepherd’s hook at the edge of our patio. It’s very popular with the local songbirds, especially on cold and snowy winter days.
To make a feeder of your own, you’ll need the following:
- 1 used Christmas tree (scavenged if necessary)
- saw for cutting trunk
- pruners for trimming branches
- drill with a half inch inch wood bit
- a screw eye and a piece of rope for hanging
- safety glasses for eye protection
Cut a sixteen to twenty inch section of the trunk, near the base of the tree. Trim the branches, but leave 2 inch stubs that the birds can use as perches. Put a half inch wood bit into your drill. Drill ten to fifteen holes into the trunk, about ½ inch deep. A piece of masking or electrical tape placed ½ inch above the bottom of the drill bit will help you gauge the depth of your holes.
Space the holes fairly evenly around the trunk, trying to put most of them within the reach of a bird sitting on one of the branch stub perches. It’s fine to have one or two holes with no perch, as nuthatches and woodpeckers will have no trouble reaching those. Birds will also perch on top of the feeder and reach down to the topmost holes.
Install the screw eye into the top end of the feeder. You may need to drill a small pilot hole and put just a drop of wood glue into the hole to help secure the screw eye. Tie a loop of rope through the screw eye, and your new feeder is ready to hang.
We get big containers of cheap peanut butter at the local box store and use that to fill the feeder. The birds eat up the peanut butter so quickly that I fill and overfill the holes very generously in order to make it last more than half a day. The feeder attracts all sorts of local songbirds: Downy Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, even Juncos! At times, it is as crowded as the carousel at the county fair, spinning on its rope as birds land and take off again from the perches.
Occasionally, I’ll fill the feeder with a suet-like mixture instead of peanut butter. I use a recipe that is supposed to keep well even in warmer weather, although I generally let the birds concentrate on the bugs in my garden in the summer. I also press this mixture into blocks, storing them in my freezer to use in my little wire suet feeder. (See recipe below)
If you have no Christmas tree to recycle, take a look down the street on trash day. Odds are good that one of your neighbors will be throwing out a cut tree. You may get some strange looks as you saw a section or two from its trunk before the garbage truck arrives. But when your neighbors see the birds flock to your yard, they’ll see their tired old tree in a whole new light!
Martha Sargent’s No-Melt, All-Season Peanut Butter Suet
I’ve had this recipe in my file for years. Internet sources indicate it has been published in Wild Bird, but I’ve been unable to find a specific citation, other than its being definitely attributed to Martha Sargent of Trussville, Alabama. Thanks, Martha!
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups “quick cook” oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup lard (do not substitute vegetable shortening)
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar
Melt the lard and peanut butter, and stir them together. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into freezer containers or a brownie pan, about 1 ½ inches thick. When cool, cut into squares, wrap in wax paper or plastic, and store in the freezer. If I’m using this to fill my Christmas tree feeder, I'll add a bit more peanut butter to make a softer mixture.
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.