Most of the world, from desert to tundra, sports at least one or two native species of birds. Depending on their habitat, the diet of birds varies greatly. Some, such as the owl, prefer to hunt at night and dine upon small rodents and reptiles. Others, like the woodpecker, use their beaks to peck out or dig for grubs. Vultures prefer to eat carrion. However, the easiest grouping of birds to feed in one's backyard (without attracting government attention) are the seed-eating songbirds. Songbirds are found in most temperate climates, and due to their migratory patterns can be found as far south as the equator (or as far north, if they're a Southern Hemisphere species) or as close to the poles as Canada or Chili. During winter months some songbirds do not migrate--mourning doves and cardinals among these--and therefore have to be constantly looking for food.

Making a pine cone bird feeder is an easy way to help out these birds during the colder months. It is very simple to make one, and one's children can always be put to work making more feeders if they have nothing better to do than hop around the house all day. The ingredients are:

  • one pine cone, preferably of moderate size
  • one jar of peanut butter
  • one low baking pan, such as a cornbread pan
  • one bag of birdseed
  • a length of ribbon, twine, or string
  • any extras you feel like adding, such as honey

Take the pine cone and rinse it in water. This cleans off any dirt, dust, or pollen that may be stuck to it; while the birds won't care, it makes cleaning up the kitchen a bit easier. Place the cone aside to dry. Fill the pan about one-third to one-half full with bird seed. Don't overfill it; you'll need some room to move the birdseed around a little. Once this is finished, return to the pine cone. Using whatever utensil you like (knives and spoons work well), spread the surface of the cone with peanut butter. Try to fill in the gaps between the scales the best you can. Once the cone is buttered to satisfaction, roll it around in the seed. Don't be afraid to apply a little pressure to it; the seed has to be imbedded in the peanut butter to a degree that most of it won't fall off when you pick up the cone again. Roll the cone until the peanut butter has been completely hidden by seed.

Here there are two options. You can choose to either be done with your feeder and tie it to a nearby tree or windowsill with the string (red ribbon tied into a bow makes for a festive holiday decoration), or you can elaborate upon it further. This second option is mostly up to your imagination. Drizzling honey over the pine cone and sending it back into the seed is an option, while Tom Lehrer fans may prefer dipping their feeders in strychnine (it should probably be noted that this is illegal in most areas). Gluing pom-poms to the finished product is really weird, but another way to make your feeder unique. As with a "normal" feeder, simply hang the finished product outside when you've become satisfied with its eccentricity.

The birds will thank you.

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