By Coggin Heeringa
“Night Tree,” which is based on the children’s book by Eve Bunting, is a beloved tradition at Crossroads. It started years ago as a Sawyer School first grade field trip, but it has grown over the years to be a Saturday morning family gathering in which learners of all ages share videos, a story by the fire, and then a hike to the forest to decorate the trees with food for the animals.
This year, Night Tree will be held at 10:00 on Saturday, December 10. The program is absolutely free, but some families like to donate a gift of food for the birds and the squirrels, and even the rabbits and opossums (who knew? until we found tracks in the snow.)When one gives a gift, it is best to choose something that the recipient would like. And alas, many of the cherished holiday bird treats, many brought over from the “Old Country” and some, cute DYI projects from the Internet—while charming and probably fun to make, are not appreciated or even recognized by wild creatures.
For starters, wild birds should not eat food intended for humans such as bread or Cheerios. I know—Cheerio feeders are cute, but nutritionally inadequate. Foods like bacon and chocolate are downright harmful. And popcorn just gets wet and soggy if hung outdoors.
I’ve read that in Germany, people used to spread corn on their rooftops on Christmas Eve. Maybe that works in Europe, but the birds that each cracked corn here—juncos, sparrows, and mourning doves— tend to be ground feeders. In Denmark, the tradition is to set up a “juleneg”—a sheaf of grain hung in a tree. But in Wisconsin, birds that frequent feeders hung in trees—finches, chickadees, nuthatches– tend to prefer black oil sunflower seeds or fresh nyjer seed.
And peanut butter? Well, actually peanut butter is good for birds. The idea that small birds choke on it is just a myth.
Birds like creamy and they like chunky, as long as it is fresh. Rancid or moldy peanut butter is just as bad for animals as it would be for us. But you don’t need to buy the most expensive stuff. Low-salt peanut butter is desirable, but low-fat and low-sugar peanut butter will not meet the nutritional needs of winter birds.Bring the whole family to share the holiday spirit—if your family want to bring a gift of the creatures at Crossroads, sunflower seeds and peanut butter would be great. And if someone in the family as a peanut allergy—please let us know ahead of time.
In the environmental community, the practice of backyard bird feeding is controversial. Some ornithologists are concerned that where birds gather in close proximity, like at a feeder, they can transmit diseases and parasites. Last year, Crossroads did stop supplemental feeding while several avian viruses were spreading.
But the birds kept visiting because we leave our spent native wildflowers standing in the landscaped area around the Learning Center. Most of our winter songbirds use the seedheads from last year’s blossoms as private little bird feeders. It is entertaining to watch as they cling tenaciously to the faded stems to feed enthusiastically on their favorite winter fare.
The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society had a nice triumph this week. An image of Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, taken by DPAS Vice President Tom Gwilym using the new telescope in the Leif Everson Observatory, was published by NASA on their Spaceweather.com website. From Crossroads to the world!!!
But for folks who can’t afford to purchase a $79,000 Planewave telescope and mount, the program for the December meeting of DPAS will be a “A Telescope Buyers Guide” and it will offer advice on purchasing astronomical equipment at a less astronomical cost just in time for gift giving. The meeting will be held at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center, 2200 Utah Street on Tuesday, December 13, at 7:00 PM.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and restoration, and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. We welcome your support! Become a member of Crossroads by mailing a contribution to P.O. Box 608 or donating online at www.crossroadsatbigcreek.org.