The winter solstice, also known as “Midwinter” and “The Longest Night” marks the astronomical beginning of winter as well as the shortest day and longest night of the year. After this date (occurring between the 20th-22nd of December each year) our daylight hours will begin to get longer, but we still have three more months of winter until spring. We decided to begin a new tradition to celebrate not only the winter season, but our neighborhood wildlife that we get so much joy from observing throughout the year.
Winter marks the beginning of a time of hardship for our wild friends, even though they are perfectly equipped to cope with the harsh outdoor environment, food is not as plentiful as it is in the summer months. So to give them a little boost this is when we hang our suet feeders, peanut cages, and keep our seed feeders full. To make it a little more special we chose a tree in our yard to decorate with some festive treats too!
Popcorn Strings!: Since these are for wild birds that could be harmed by ingesting string or thread, I chose to string our popcorn on a length of wire. Birds wont be able to take any with them when they grab a kernel and it eliminates the needle from the equation making this a kid friendly project! We popped plain popcorn in a pot on the stove with a bit of melted tallow instead of our usual bacon fat (yes we really do that and it is amazing). For a splash of color and a little vitamin C and moisture for our feathery friends I added fresh cranberries to the strings, as well as orange slices.
Bird Friendly “Cookies” are also on the menu Preheat your oven to 350 and combine in the bowl of a food processor until very sticky:
1 cup dried dates & dehydrated apples
½ cup oatmeal
½ cup raisins
¼ unsalted sunflower seeds
¼ cup meal worms (optional)
Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add two Tablespoons natural peanut butter, and one Tablespoon raw honey, stir until thoroughly incorporated, mixture will become hard to stir. Press into cookie cutter shapes and bake for 20 minutes. Cool, string on wire and hang.
Don’t Forget Good Ole Rabbit: For our very plentiful population of wild rabbits, carrots and apples will be roughly chopped and placed in areas they are known to frequent. Corn cobs will be added to our squirrel feeder…maybe now they’ll stay out of our garage.
What about water? A lot of people express concern about where birds get water in the winter when all fresh water sources are frozen. Rest assured that their water requirements are met by eating snow and wild berries and fruit. But an open water source is always appreciated. You can find various heated bird baths available on the market and you may find that your yard becomes a hot bed of wild bird activity. Purchase a low to the ground bath if you wish to give your rabbit visitors a drink as well.
But where do they sleep? I have often found myself wondering this same question on blustery cold nights. Much like our chickens in the coop, wild birds roost together in large groups to conserve heat. They choose tree cavities, the root balls of upturned trees, and the eves and rafters of old barns. Some species of wild birds will over-winter as a family in the birdhouse they claimed in the spring, so you may want to think twice before you clean it out at the end of the year. – I’d even use it as an excuse to leave that brush pile until spring. Bird watchers can catch wild birds roosting just after sunset.
A note regarding the special treats mentioned in this article: The popcorn strings, and bird cookies will only be presented on this day until they are gone and they will not be available to wildlife the entire season to prevent dependence on them. If you live in an area that prohibits the feeding of wildlife, please observe these rules as they are there to protect not only the wildlife, but you and your family as well.