Winter can be a big drag for those of us who like to be outside gardening. But you can still enjoy the great outdoors during the season – just in a different way. If you’re already into feeding the birds, then you’re a step ahead. If not, creating a holiday bird-feeding tree is a great way to get started!

High end feeders

Hanging weather-resistant bird feeders from an outdoor holiday tree is sure to bring some feathered friends to your yard.

Photo Credit: Marjorie Pullman

Store bought birdhouse

You can deck the boughs with some store-bought birdseed ornaments.

Photo Credit: Marjorie Pullman

Bird food suet

Don’t forget the suet – birds need a good source of fat to get them through the chilly months.

Photo Credit: Marjorie Pullman

Tree ornaments

Consider adding some birdhouses to your tree for shelter.

Photo Credit: Marjorie Pullman

There’s no right or wrong way to create this tree, but I’d like to suggest you start with selecting a theme. It can be as simple or extravagant as you want, ranging from working within just one color scheme to creating an entire Chinese New Year premise. After you select the theme, there are a few basic rules of thumb to follow so you don’t scare or hurt the birds.

First, make sure that any ornaments you use don’t have bows or shiny surfaces that reflect light because they’ll scare the birds away. (But do keep this reflecting-light concept in mind when protecting your berries in the summertime.) And do make sure that anything you put on the tree is nontoxic, bird-friendly and doesn’t have any sharp edges.

If you’re already feeding the birds, you probably know which feathered friends you care to attract and what type of feed you should set out. But if it’s still a mystery to you, head to your local garden center and check out the birdseed packages. The labels typically indicate what kind of birds each feed attracts.

Next, pick which tree in your yard you want to transform. Personally, I like the “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” look, so I decorate a deciduous one. Some years I’ve used some of my small evergreen trees or the bottom part of a large tree. You might even consider having your children decorate their own tree with a separate theme.

What if you don’t have a tree in your yard? Don’t worry. This is a great way to recycle that old, fake Christmas tree that’s been collecting dust in the garage. You can also use a large tree branch. If that’s the case, be sure to use an old Christmas tree stand for it, then stabilize the stand by placing a number of large rocks around its base. Not only does this give your branch “tree” a more natural look, it helps keep the birds safe.

Now let the decorating begin! You can always use a variety of store-bought bird feeders and some colorful weather-resistant ornaments. But if you’re a bit craftier, you can make some homemade edible garland. Simply string up some popcorn, peanuts in the shell, cranberries and the like on some fishing line and wrap it around your tree. You can also make ornaments by spreading some peanut butter or lard over pinecones and rolling them in birdseed.

For a different look, hang suets or make a seed bag ornament by putting the food in some netting, tying it up with some string and hanging it on the tree for a nice winter snack for our feathered friends. If you’ve got the room, you may even consider adding a few birdhouses. (It’s also a good idea to provide a nearby water source.) It’s all up to you.

As for the squirrels…personally I’ve given up the battle. I’ve even grown to admire their creativity in cracking open even the best squirrel-prevention items money can buy. What I do instead is throw a few scoops of cracked corn on the ground for the hungry little beasts in hopes they’ll leave the more expensive birdseed alone. And of course, the cracked corn is also good for the ground-feeding birds, like morning doves and sparrows.

Finally, just remember to be creative and have fun. As long as it’s good for the birds, your holiday bird-feeding tree will keep your yard busy and buzzing with activity the winter through – until you’re the one buzzing in your garden again come spring!