Give birds holiday gifts from your garden

December 17, 2012
  • You can make a bird tree in your garden with some of their favorite treats.
Submitted photo

Most gardeners enjoy sharing their gardens with birds. From cardinals flashing crimson at our feeders to goldfinches plucking seeds from our coneflowers, our feathered friends make us smile. Why not honor them with some holiday gifts?

Start with a long, cool drink of water. Fresh water is hard to come by in the winter, so start with a birdbath. Then tuck a birdbath heater inside. Splurge on a sturdy one and it will last for years.    

Location matters. Place your birdbath so you can see birds sipping and splashing from a window. Make it a natural focal point. Mine is skirted with lavender and framed with varying levels of evergreens and perennials. An inconspicuous path curves around it to make refilling easy.

Birds appreciate a nearby perch for post-bath preening. Multibranched shrubs, trees and perennials are ideal. Viburnum, sweet shrub and coneflowers are my birds’ favorites. No perches nearby? Craft a perch with an attractive container and some branches weighted with stones.

Have you ever made a bird tree? For a decidedly different holiday tree, decorate an outdoor evergreen or shrub with ornaments that feed birds and other wildlife. Gather pine cones, fruit, nuts, suet, seed, cotton thread or twine and get crafting. Whip up some cocoa and make it a family affair.

String raisins, cranberries or popcorn into garlands. Stuff scooped-out citrus cups with seeds or nuts. Smear pine cones or rice cakes with peanut butter and birdseed. Gather dried flowers and seed heads into nosegays. The birds will sing your praises.

Other artful additions are holiday shapes cut from tortillas or bread and cookies baked with birdseed. Add color by thinly slicing fruit like apples, oranges or starfruit and drying them in a dehydrator or a 400-degree oven for four to six hours. 

Want more? Add dried sunflower heads, stalks of dried millet or tiny mesh bags of suet to your bird tree. Bundle Indian corn with raffia. Finally, create a natural tree skirt by sprinkling some seeds on the ground for ground-feeding birds.

If you want to enjoy your wildlife tree all winter long, make extras of all your ornaments to replace ones that have been nibbled or winged away by the birds. 

Did you see our master gardeners’ tree at the Charlie Brown Christmas tree event at the Springfield Barn in Williamsport earlier this month? Themed, “Treats for the Birds,” it was chock-a-block full of colorful dried flowers, seed pods, grasses, vines and other natural ornaments. It was educational, inspiring and quite lovely. 
Would you like a holiday gift from me for your birds? I’d be happy to send you a free copy of directions for making your own bird-friendly tree ornaments  Just send me a No. 10 envelope addressed to: Birds, University of MD Extension, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. 

May you and your gardens — and all birds winging within – be abundantly blessed this holiday season. 

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland in Washington County.  She can be reached at 301-791-1604 or

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