When her kids were growing up, it was a Christmas tradition for Cindy Harrelson’s family to spend a winter afternoon and evening in the forest, decorating a tree with homemade, edible ornaments for the birds. Her family would hike to a favorite spot, hauling the edible decorations, hot cocoa, and campfire supplies.
“We did it to give a little something back to the animals,” she said. “My kids are grown now, but they still remember the tradition fondly.” Cindy is now a Murdoch’s team member in Bozeman.
We love her Christmas tradition and wanted to share it with you. Here are a couple of ways you can make festive bird-friendly outdoor ornaments for our feathered friends this winter.
Bird Seed Ornaments
Bird Seed Ornaments
This method is great for kids to get involved, but requires quite a few cookie cutters. We adapted a recipe we found here.
- Choose a bird seed that has small ingredients. Large seeds like black sunflower seeds are a little harder to work with. We chose a blend for finches, but this one would also work well. You don’t have to be picky. You’ll need 4 cups.
- Supplies List: Mixing bowl, wax paper, wire cooling rack, non-stick spray, twine, 4 cups bird seed, 3/4 cups flour, 1 packet of Knox gelatin, a skewer, corn syrup (light worked fine), cookie cutters, medium saucepan, spatula, whisk, 1/2 cup + 3 teaspoons water
- Coat the cookie cutters with non-stick spray. Do it over the sink for easy clean up.
- Coat the wax paper with spray as well. Set the cookie cutters on the wax paper.
- Combine water and corn syrup in the saucepan. Bring to boil.
- Whisk in the gelatin. It will clump up. Continue whisking until all clumps have dissolved. We found that keeping the heat at high or medium high helped dissolve the gelatin.
- Pour flour into the mixing bowl.
- Add the liquid as soon as the gelatin is dissolved.
- Stir the mixture. Thin out any clumps. You’re looking for the consistency of a quick bread batter. Add water by the drops if it’s too thick.
- Add the bird seed.
- Stir the thick, sticky mixture well. It will be the same consistency as rice cereal and marshmallow treats.
- Pack each cookie cutter tightly with the bird seed.
- Make bird seed balls with the extra seed by pressing twine with a knotted end into the sticky mix and forming a ball with your hands.
- Place the ornaments on the wire rack.
- Skewer them and wiggle the skewer around to create a nice hole.
- Put the twine through the hole.
- Push the hole closed so that the twine adheres to the sticky seeds.
- Don’t tie the twine together yet.
- Remove the greasy wax paper to help them dry.
- Let them sit for about an hour.
- Remove them from the cookie cutters and tie the twine ends together in a knot.
- Leave them to dry and harden overnight.
These ornaments travel well in a zipped plastic bag. You can use any biodegradable string. Never use fishing line.Bird Feeding Supplies
This method can get messy, but the fat in suet is great for birds in need of extra energy during the winter.
- Start with a few packs of suet, skewers, twine, cookie cutters, a baking sheet pan, and wax paper.
- Unwrap the suet packs and place them on the baking sheet
- Use cookie cutters to cut shapes.
- Use the skewer to poke holes in the suet while the cookie cutter is still on.
- Thread the twine through the hole. It’s easiest if you use a twisting motion to screw it through.
- Remove the cookie cutter, and set the suet shape aside.
- With the remaining suet pieces, press it like cookie dough. The warmer the suet gets, the easier it is to work with. It should be as thick as your cookie cutter.
- Use the cookie cutters to cut more shapes out.
- Again, use the skewer to put holes in the suet while the cookie cutter is still on.
- Thread the twine through, using a twisting motion.
- Tie the twine ends together in a knot. Set the suet shapes aside on wax paper.
- To make use of any remaining scraps, tie a few knots at the end of a piece of twine.
- Lay the twine on top of a clump of suet scraps in your hand.
- Squeeze the suet into a ball around the twine.
- Tie a loop in the twine.
- Snip loose ends.
- Place all of the ornaments on a wax-papered cookie sheet
- It isn’t necessary, but you can put them in the freezer to store. This will help them keep their shape until you decorate the tree.