From December 14 through January 5, citizen scientists of all ages will participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (Tinyurl.com/AudubonChristmasCount), the country’s longest-running wildlife census. Audubon and other organizations use the data collected by volunteers to monitor population trends and guide conservation efforts.
Whether or not families plan to help Audubon volunteers keep track of feathered visitors, they might consider providing backyard birds with gifts of food during the winter, when natural food sources can be scarce. Adorning outdoor trees with edible decorations can also help brighten landscapes, reduce kitchen scraps, creatively involve children in nature and make yards more bird-friendly.
Salvage citrus rinds for feeders. Poke holes along the edge of hollowed halves of grapefruit and orange peels and run twine through them so they can hang from a branch. Fill with bird seed or suet.
Create ornaments from bread heels or stale loaves. After cutting out shapes with a cookie cutter, spread them with unsalted nut butter and cover with birdseed. Bagels, rice cakes and pinecones can be frosted and sprinkled in the same way. Avoid using anything moldy. For more colorful ornaments, hang orange and apple slices.
Drape edible garland around tree branches. Thread unsalted popcorn (stale popcorn strings more easily), fresh cranberries, citrus slices, unshelled peanuts, dried apples or grapes into a garland.
Use natural string, wool or raffia for hanging decorations. Wild Birds Unlimited suggests selecting these materials so they can be used by birds as nesting materials in the spring.
Collect seed heads and berries to tuck among the branches. According to the National Wildlife Federation, good food sources include seed heads from flowers such as goldenrod, sunflower, coneflower, sumac and mullein; seed heads from grasses such as millet, wheat, foxtail and switchgrass; and berries on sprigs of holly, juniper, cedar, hawthorn and mountain ash. Make sure decorations are hung on a tree or shrub near a window so the whole family can enjoy watching the wildlife they attract.
Contributing source: The Humane Society