With a sudden cold snap, we woke to snow on the ground. It’s been a warmer winter than we’ve been used o the last few years, and the boys were excited at the extra dusting on the ground. It didn’t take long to notice what was missing, though. The sound of the birds in our front yard as we head out to play, the swoops of dark as they fly in and out of the trees and from the bushes skirting our garden and driveway. We talked about why the birds weren’t there (the ground was frozen and covered in snow so they couldn’t dig through the earth). It didn’t take long for my boys to decide that we should put out a bird feeder and help them out.
We researched it a little and discussed our options. I was concerned that intervening in the birds’ natural foraging might cause problems, and we talked about that and discussed what harm we might do by trying to help. We read this article on whether it was a good idea to feed birds in the winter and used that information to help us plan our feeders. Here’s what we knew we wanted:
Where possible, we wanted to use up materials we already had around the house, rather than purchasing a feeder. We decided to use orange peels to make single-use feeders that we could throw away once the seed was eaten. Red also searched through our recycling bin to find a slightly larger container.
Small quantities of bird feed
We decided to keep our bird feeders small and easy to clean up, to limit the risk of contamination. We certainly don’t want to make the birds ill! The orange halves were perfect for this, and we decided to monitor how long it takes the birds to eat the seed in the larger container. We can always take it down and replace it with something smaller if we feel it is being left out for too long
Bird Seed recipe
After searching through a few options online, we decided to use cashew butter (which we had in the house and no one was really eating) and mixed it with bird seed I bought at the store. We may change this as we put out new feeders, depending on who comes to visit! We liked that we were ‘recycling’ the nut butter which was hiding at the back of the shelf and being ignored by everyone in favor of the peanut butter!
The boys loved the sensory experience of stirring in the seed themselves. It allowed us to discuss what the birds would be eating and made them feel more involved than if we had just bought some ready-made bird feed. Smalls is nearly 4, so I hadn’t expected to find him licking his fingers while he worked – luckily all the ingredients are edible for humans and birds, although I tried to limit how many seeds he ate!
Which birds come to visit?
The only thing I bought for this project was the bird seed, which I got from the bulk bins at the local grocery store. We plan to keep an eye on which birds make the most of the feeders, and we can consider changing out the seed if we make these again in the future.
I think our homemade feeders turned out great! They were easy for the kids to help with, cost just pennies in bird seed, and used up some other items in the house to minimize the waste.
I love to encourage the kids to get involved in the garden but in the winter that can be hard. I hope that making the feeders, watching for the birds that come (and the important jobs of cleaning up any mess that falls and throwing out the feeders when they’re empty) allows the boys to see the link between work and play in the garden. I also want them to see that while we have a sheet of paper that declares the fenced-in yard as ‘ours’, this land is used and enjoyed by all manner of creatures, and we want to encourage them and protect them when necessary. Last year we saw some bug hotels at the local Foothills Learning Center and we’re planning to make one and put it up in our garden in the spring. Making feeders in the winter allows the boys to see the cycle of the seasons and what different animals and birds need at these different times.
Do you put out bird feed in the winter? Have you ever made your own feeders with the kids? If you try it, let me know!