This was the first year in my entire life that I got a real Christmas tree. We went to a wonderful tree farm in Greenfield, Indiana (Hill Crest Tree Farm 317.462.7694). I wanted to leave it up as long as I possibly could, but it came time to either vaccuum up hundreds of little needles every day....or move on. Time to say my final good-byes to the tree.
But what if I could find a way to re-purpose it, and keep it around a little bit longer? So I put my thinking cap on and decided that the birds, squirrels and chipmunks would probably like a tree for the winter. It will take another month or so for it to lose ALL it's needles, so why not set it outside to provide them with some extra shelter? Why not also make it a drive-thru buffett for the animals!? Why not decorate it AGAIN with bird friendly food!?
So I got to work on some bird seed ornaments. First I took Barney for a walk in the park where we collected some pinecones to use as decoration.
Then I got out my metal cookie cutters, placed them on 2 layers of aluminum foil and wrapped up the sides so the concoction I was about to make didn't seep out. I researched some bird seed ornament recipes, but I rarely follow a recipe....so I am winging it (no pun intended!). If you like to follow exact recipes to ensure a consistent product, please look up some recipes on the web. A search for "bird seed ornaments" should do the trick.
Then I found some yarn to hang these with and put them in the molds. You will want to tie these to the branches, so forming a loop to hang them won't work. You don't want them blowing off, or falling off as they are being eaten. I put one end of the yarn in, one end out. Now that the project is over, if I had to do it again I would make a loop and put it on the INSIDE of the mold, leaving the 2 ends on the outside to tie. This would just make it easier. I also read that birds shy away from bright colors....so try not to use hot pink string. I used green because that is what I had.
Okay time to make the concoction. You are basically mixing fat and bird seed. You can use just about any sort of fat you like. The only warning I read was not to use 100% peanut butter, it becomes hard for them to digest. So if you use PB, mix it with cornmeal. I used 2 cups of crisco (non butter flavored) with about 1/4c peanut butter.
Melt the fat down till it is smooth and there are no more chunks over medium heat. You don't want it to boil. Once it is smooth add in some bird seed. I used a pre-made mix from my local Feed 'n' Seed store for Cardinals. You can use any kind you want, just make sure it is for birds that are around in the winter and I think smaller kernals will stick in the fat better. So no huge pumpkin seeds. I added, maybe 3c of the seed. I was eye-balling it until the mixture was mostly seed. My ornaments came out a little crumbly, so maybe I used too much seed? I would say stick to a 1(fat) to 2(seed) ratio while you are experimenting.
Once you have it all mixed up, set it aside to cool. You want it to cool down, but still be pourable. I started cleaning up the kitchen while I waited and ate some gummy bears....maybe 10-15 minutes. Once it is cool, start pouring into the molds! Make sure you hold your string so it doesn't fall out.
This is what happens when your sides are not wrapped up all the way....oops! : )
Now back to those pinecones I picked up with Barney this morning. I tried dipping them, but my mixture might not have been cool enough. So I just spooned it over the pinecones, and into the shingles. I suppose you could also smear some PB on the pinecones and roll in the seed. Don't forget your string so you can tie them to the tree!
I still had some seed mixture left over after I filled my cookie cutters and pinecones. So, I wrapped some foil around the bottom of a glass to make little circles. In the end, these worked out best because it was easiest to unwrap the foil from around the molded seed....as opposed to popping it out of the cutters (some broke). If I do this again next year I will probably skip the cookie cutters all together.
Let everything cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then pop them in the freezer for an hour. You can take them out and use them at that point, or package them in freezer bags and keep them in the freezer until you are ready to use them. Of course, I wanted to use mine right away! Tom! Take the tree outside please!
Overall, this was a fun and easy project that re-purposes a tree and feeds the wildlife. Don't be discouraged if the birds are not as excited about your tree as you are. It can take up to 2 weeks for birds to find, investigate, and be comfortable with feeding from a new site. In addition you can also string up oranges and peanuts to hang as garland, if you wanted to get REALLy fancy : )
If you decorate a tree for the birds, post a picture and let me know! I would love to see how adorable it turned out!