Decorate a Tree for the Birds

Create a buffet of garden goods to attract passing birds during the cold winter months.
Create a Winter Bird Buffet

Create a Winter Bird Buffet

Photo by: Image courtesy of Lynn Coulter

Image courtesy of Lynn Coulter

Leaving fruit, nuts and other treats can attract beautiful birds to your winter yard.

Winter is the season for giving, and there’s no reason to stop with friends and neighbors. It’s fun to decorate a tree in your yard with treats for hungry birds, too. Since their natural food supply of seeds, nuts and insects dwindles when the weather is cold, you’ll be doing more than sharing a few snacks. You’ll be helping some of our beautiful garden visitors survive.

Offer the food on an evergreen tree or shrub in your yard that has sturdy branches, or move your Christmas tree outside after the holidays and use it. You can keep the tree in its stand or insert it into a big bucket of wet, heavy sand; just be sure to remove all tinsel and decorations. You may want to tie the tree to a nearby fence or other support, and put it in a protected location, to make sure it stays upright.

Not all birds eat the same diet, so do a little backyard bird watching to see which ones frequent your area. Search online or visit your local library if you need help identifying them. Then use the list below for suggestions about what to put on your outdoor menu. 

Ideas for a Winter Bird Buffet:

  • Hang clusters of grapes from branches or put them in small, plastic strawberry baskets.
  • Cut fresh or dried apples into chunks or slices and serve them in a tray-type feeder or suet cage. Hang the feeder or cage from the tree. You can also spear pieces of fruit on small branches to make “fruit kabobs.” If you use bamboo skewers, be safe and break off the sharp tips after adding the fruits.
  • Poke holes near the rim of small, clean margarine cups. Fill the cups with peanuts, shelled or unshelled, and run twine through the holes for hanging.
  • Scatter birdseed at the base of the ground for ground-feeding birds like doves.
  • Prune branches of holly berries or small fruits from other plants in your yard and stick them into your bird buffet tree.
  • If you have any dried sunflower heads left from your summer garden, tuck them between the branches. Look for dried millet stalks to use, too.
  • Drop whole fruits, such as pears, peaches and apples, into the kind of net bags that onions come in.
  • String unsalted popcorn, unsweetened cereals like Cheerios, cranberries and dried figs.
  • Some birds will eat small fruits like blueberries, cherries and raspberries. Cut a grapefruit in half, hollow it out, and poke two or three holes in the sides. Run twine through the holes, hang the grapefruit “bowl” and fill it with these small foods.
  • Smear peanut butter on pinescones and roll them in birdseed. Tie twine to the tip of the cone and hang it.

Tips for a healthy bird feast:

Use twine, raffia, natural wool, string or ribbon to hang your treats. Some birds may use these as nesting materials next spring.

Don’t put out more fresh fruit than birds can eat in a day or two, to avoid spoilage and attracting unwanted wildlife. 

Remember that birds need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing, so consider adding a birdbath. It can be as simple as a shallow pan on a stump.

Be aware that when the treats run out, the birds will stop coming. If you want them to stay around, switch to a good quality birdseed offered in a feeder.

Avoid offering processed bread foods, such as donuts, crackers or cookies. Most are junk food for birds.

  • Birds that like oranges: Baltimore orioles, Northern mockingbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, brown thrashers, gray catbirds, Western tanagers
  • Birds that eat grapes: Northern mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, house finches, towhees, robins, scarlet and Western tanagers, Eastern and Western bluebirds
  • Birds that like raisins: Cedar waxwings, Northern mockingbirds, gray catbirds, Eastern and Western bluebirds

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