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It is the middle of winter here in Montana and it is cold, cold, cold! We’ve had some days where it is so cold we don’t see any birds flying about the homestead other than the big raptors like red tail hawks who perch atop the power poles hunting the farm fields around us. We used to have a bird feeder hanging in the tree outside our front window so we could bird watch all winter long. Unfortunately the bird feeder broke during a heavy wind storm we had over the summer and I hadn’t replaced it before the cold weather hit. Little A and I love to craft and create on these cold winter days so we decided to embark on a project to make a pine cone bird feeder to feed our feathered friends outside.
I remembered making a pine cone bird feeder as a little girl so had to pull from the far reaches of my memory to get this project organized for Little A. Luckily we had a stash of pine cones collected on some fall hikes that were perfect for this project. We didn’t have any bags of wild bird feed on hand so I did a quick internet search to find out what we could use that we had around the homestead already. I found this handy list at the All About Birds website. Luckily we had cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds in the barn to feed as a treat to the chickens during the winter. I also found some millet in the pantry to add to our bird seed mix.
How to make a pine cone bird feeder:
-medium to large size pine cones
-peanut butter or other nut butter
1. If you have a premixed bird seed you can skip this step but if you’re mixing your own you will need to start here. We had a very unscientific approach to mixing up our bird seed. We got a large bowl, poured in a scoop of cracked corn, a scoop of sunflower seeds and a scoop of millet. Then I gave Little A a big spoon and set her to work stirring it all up.
2. Get your work space ready! I covered the kitchen table in newspaper to catch any seeds that would spill and hopefully contain the mess a bit. Then we got out a jar of peanut butter, what would basically become our “glue” to hold the seeds onto the pine cones. I set out some butter knives, the twine and a pair of scissors.
4. Cut a length of twine about a foot long. Sit the pine cone down so the widest part is on the table and the pointed top is facing up. About 1/2″-1″ from the top of the pine cone, tie one end of the twine to the pine cone. Make sure the twine is tied on nice and snug so the twine won’t come off when the birds are feasting on the pine cone bird feeder when it is hanging outside in the tree!
4. Now comes the fun, messy part of spreading peanut butter on the pine cones! We used butter knives to smear peanut butter all over the pine cones. We found it was a tad bit less messy if we held the pine cone by the twine close to where it was tied to the pine cone while smearing on the peanut butter.
5. Next comes the seeds! Once the pine cones were all peanut buttered up, we put one at a time in the bowl of seeds. Little A spooned the seed mixture all over the pine cone. We also rolled the pine cone in the seeds to make sure they were good and covered.
As each pine cone was finished being seeded, I carefully sat them aside on the newspaper.
6. Last step: let’s go feed the birds! When we were all finished, we washed up and donned our warm winter clothes to head outside and hang up our pine cone bird feeders. To hang them, I tied the other end of the twine to a tree branch. We hung each pine cone bird feeder spaced out around the tree in front of our house where the store bought bird feeder used to be. This way we could watch the birds eat the seeds from the front window of the house.
The birds didn’t find the pine cone bird feeders immediately. It took them a day or two to find them and start nibbling away. A few days later when I took a closer look at each pine cone bird feeder, there was evidence our feathered friends had been visiting. Seeds were missing and there were a few seeds dropped on the ground below.
Now we can enjoy watching the birds from the front window and Little A can practice her bird identification skills that she’s learning as part of our homeschooling! Our favorite bird identification books to use are this one and this one. We also have this amazing bird identification book from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has recordings of each bird listed in the book to help us learn to identify birds by their bird calls. Learning to identify birds by their calls has been a hobby of mine the last couple years. By practicing and learning in the winter, it has helped me be able to be outside on the homestead in the warmer months and hear a bird call while working in the garden and know what type of bird is gracing us with its song!
Do you feed the birds in the winter? What are your favorite bird identification resources?