How to Turn Your Old Christmas Tree Into a Wildlife Magnet

Recycling a fresh cut Christmas tree into a bird feeding station is the ultimate repurposing of your Christmas decorations. Setting up my old tree next to my bird feeders gave me hours of enjoyment watching birds feeding, chirping, and feasting – not to mention the squirrels pigging out!  Just watching the squirrel antics kept us entertained for days and my dogs were even attracted to the low hanging fruit. A smorgasbord for everyone!

My small tree from last year was easy to decorate
I don’t mind the squirrels
Tori sampling the buffet
Bird house tree at Longwood Gardens

Step By Step

  1. Location-Choose a spot to set up your tree that is visible from your house. I chose to place my tree next to an existing bird feeder located under a large Sycamore tree that birds can perch on from above. This gives shyer birds some protection from more aggressive ones and hawks. Wind protection is helpful also.
  2. Secure- I kept the still fragrant tree in the existing tree stand that was mounted to a large piece of plywood to serve as a wide base, so it wouldn’t topple over.  In addition, I tied twine around the trunk of the tree to the post with the bird feeder as added security. A large piece of burlap was my tree skirt.
  3. Create– For my own enjoyment, I wanted the tree to be attractive so planned on a large variety of feeding options, from popcorn garlands to molded bird seed ornaments. The best resource for feeding birds is Cornell’s Birds in Your Backyard. I learned that birds relish bacon fat from that publication! Also, Cornell lists what types of food attract which type of birds. For suet options, see my suet recipe below or on Suet Is For the Birds!
Millet sprays, popcorn, peanut butter covered pine cones, and orange slices ready to go

4. Decorate-Just like decorating your indoor Christmas tree, start with the  big stuff first- garlands, large pinecones, berry sprays, and large seed heads were placed first and then smaller peanut butter balls, and bird seed ornaments filled in. All peanut butter ornaments (recipe below) were hung high so my dogs couldn’t abscond with them. But squirrels plucked them off anyway. No matter, I made enough for both birds and squirrels. Keeping some materials in reserve, I’m prepared to restock when necessary all winter long.

Materials Used

  • Sliced fresh oranges
  • Used grapefruit halves filled with bird seed
  • Popcorn Balls with peanut butter
  • Raw sheep’s wool
  • Bird seed ornaments
  • Raisin strings
  • Dried seed heads
  • Winterberry sprays
  • Cheerios on pipe cleaners
  • Millet sprays
  • Pine cones slathered with peanut butter and bird seed

Other things that you could use are apple slices, dried fruits, peanuts (no salt), mealworms, dried corn, stale bread (sparingly), bacon fat, beef fat, venison fat, pork fat, cooked rice. Do not feed  cooked turkey fat, anything with salt, moldy food, dog or cat biscuits, or milk. 

I used natural jute or yarn to make hangers for everything

 

Ready to decorate

5. Nesting Materials– I will be keeping this tree up for several months so added nesting materials which will be needed soon.  Large hanks of natural sheep wool was stuffed into branch openings. Birds love sheep wool to line nests. I have found this wool in use in old nests around my property in past years. Other materials that you could use are:

  • Dead twigs
  • Dead leaves
  • Dry grass (make sure the grass hadn’t been treated with pesticides)
  • Feathers
  • Plant fluff or down (e.g. cattail fluff, cottonwood down)
  • Moss
  • Bark strips
  • Pine needles
Add your large items first before the hangers like pine cones

Recipes

I’ve included  four recipes, three of which  were on previous posts. The bird seed ornament post is one of my most viewed posts of all time, so I am confident that people are really interested in nourishing and watching birds in the winter. The bark butter recipe is useful for smearing onto logs, pine cones, etc. for bird  buffets. And I used chunks of suet to stuff the grapefruit halves.

Bird butter is sold in high end bird equipment stores and can be very expensive to buy, but inexpensive and easy to make

Salt is toxic to birds, so watch what type of popcorn you use. I used bulk unpopped corn that I popped on the stovetop in corn oil. Peanut butter has a lot of additives also, so I used natural types.

Bird peanut butter balls

Peanut Butter Seed Balls

A nutritious easy snack to feed your birds in the winter

Ingredients

  • 5-6 C Popped corn with no salt, don't use microwaved, like Jiffy Pop
  • 1 C Raisons, or other dried fruit
  • 3/4 C Peanuts, not salted, as salt can be toxic to birds
  • 2 1/2 C Peanut butter, I like to use the natural kind
  • 1/2 C Corn Syrup
  • 1 C Mixed Bird Seed

Instructions

  1. Melt the peanut butter and corn syrup on low heat until smooth and syrupy

  2. Add in rest of ingredients and stir until everything is completely moistened.

  3. Let cool until cool enough to form into small balls. Then form the mixture into balls about 1 - 2 inches in diameter by hand.

  4. Use natural jute twine, wrapping around the balls firmly and creating a hanger to tie to the tree branch.

Bark butter smeared on a hanging log

Bark Butter for Birds

A high fat source of protein for feeding backyard birds; Slather it on branches and bird feeders

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb Lard
  • 1 C Peanut Butter, Creamy or Smooth
  • 4 C Cornmeal
  • 1 C Flour

Instructions

  1. Mix together peanut butter and lard in large bowl until smooth

  2. Add flour and cornmeal in batches, stirring after every addition until thoroughly mixed

  3. Slather onto pine cones, or tree bark for squirrels and birds to lap up. Pinecones can be rolled in a seed mixture and meal worms for extra protein

Molded in a milk container, slice your suet into chunks

Peanut Butter Bird Suet

This makes a simple high fat suet cake that you cut up to make any size or shape. I use lard or beef suet for the fat. Lard is easier to find. I also throw in many additions like raisins, sunflower seeds, nuts, etc.   

Ingredients

  • 2 C Crunchy or smooth Peanut Butter
  • 2 C Lard or Beef Fat
  • 4 C Oatmeal
  • 4 C Corn Meal
  • 2 C Flour, white of whole wheat
  • 2/3 C Sugar, brown or white
  • Raisins, peanuts, dried fruit, bird seed can be added to this mix, just make sure everything is thoroughly moistened with the lard mix

Instructions

  1. Melt lard and peanut butter in a dutch oven. 

  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. The mixture will be stiff and wet. 

  3. Spoon into a 9 x13 glass casserole or half gallon waxed milk container. When hard, cut into squares and you can store any excess in the freezer.

All kinds of forms can be used for bird seed ornaments

Bird Seed Ornaments

Mix up bird seed with dried fruit, fresh cranberries, and mealworms for a nutritious snack for songbirds

Ingredients

  • 3-4 C Mixed Bird Seed Millet, Sunflower Seeds, Meal Worms, Cracked Corn, Peanuts, Dried Fruit, Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds
  • 1 Pkg of 4 Envelopes Unflavored Gelatin mixed into 3/4 C to 1 C warm water
  • 2 T Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 C Flour mixed into 1/3 C water

Instructions

  1. Spray your cookie cutters and/or bundt pan with non-stick spray and place on a foil covered cookie sheet. 

  2. Empty gelatin into a large bowl with warm water (1 Cup) until it forms a thick paste. Let this sit for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve. Add some more water if it is too thick.

    Dissolve gelatin in cold water
  3. Mix flour and water together in a small bowl to form a paste.

  4. Add corn syrup to the gelatin mixture, stirring.  Then add the flour paste, mixing thoroughly. This is the binder that gels the seeds together. It should be a thick gooey mass with some lumps. Add small amounts of water as needed.

  5. Mix in the bird seed, using just enough to cover all the bird seed.

  6. Fill the cookie cutters/wreath with the mixture and press into shape firmly. Don’t skimp this part- the more packed in you can get the cookie cutters and molds, the better they hold their shape. 

  7. Make a small hole with the skewer for the string or raffia in the ornaments. Leave the skewers in until the ornaments dry.

    Stick a skewer or dowel into the ornament to form a hanging hole
  8. Let cure/air dry for several days and they are ready to unmold. Do not double this recipe. I made two separate batches to make  4-5 ornaments and a wreath.  

  9. Let dry once you unmold for an additional day to harden. I did this in the cold air of outside.

Gift basket of bird seed ornaments
Supplies for making bird seed ornaments

5 Replies to “How to Turn Your Old Christmas Tree Into a Wildlife Magnet”

  1. I am going to have to remember this next November – Giving a basket of these bird seed ornaments will make great Christmas gifts. It will give the joy of seeing birds all winter long. For those who aren’t avid bird watchers or ever thought of feeding the birds in the winter, it could open the joy of sipping your coffee at the window & losing yourself in simply watching the birds.
    I’m not going to count on my memory….. making a note in my 11/2021 calendar now to look up this post.

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