I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

A Repurposed Christmas Tree for Nature Study

Written by Jessica.

It is just one week until Christmas Day, and right now the family Christmas tree is a gathering place for many. In our house, we cozy up on the couch and read with tree lights aglow as we count down to Christmas.

The foot of the tree is everyone’s favorite spot to play or do schoolwork in December. It’s a place for sharing family memories; my children never tire of pointing to the ornaments and asking to hear the story behind each one. During Christmas week, branches, heavy-laden with the decorations of years past, provide a backdrop for our family’s celebrations.

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But once Christmas is over, the tree will need to go. The branches will get droopy. The needles will drop. We’ll leave it up for as long as we can because the house always feels so bare once the tree comes down – and no one ever wants Christmas-time to come to its end. But when it's finally time to take the tree outside, we won’t feel too glum because our Christmas tree will become part of another tradition: it will be repurposed into a nature study tree for birds and other animals to feed at in the cold of winter. The critters will feast, and my kids will learn.

A Nature Study Tree

The idea for a nature study tree comes from the book Night Tree by Eve Bunting. It is one of the books that I always include in our countdown to Christmas with books. If you aren’t already familiar with the book, the story describes one family’s tradition of decorating an outdoor tree on Christmas Eve with all kinds of treats that they have prepared for the birds and other forest creatures. It is not a Nativity-themed book, but rather it’s about family, traditions, growing up, making memories, and the wonder of creation. It’s such a lovely, gentle book that always brings a quiet hush over my children when I read it to them. It’s one of our very favorites.

In Night Tree, the family uses a live tree in a forest near their home. They decorate it with treats they had spent weeks gathering and making: seeds, fresh and dried fruit, popcorn, nuts, and more. Afterward, they drink cocoa and sing together, and then they go home for Christmas. On Christmas Day the main character in the story, a little boy, imagines what the tree will look like as all the birds and other animals discover the Christmas treats that he and his family left for them. Part of the wonder of the story is imagining the animals’ special Christmas feast.

Choosing a Tree

In the book, a live tree is used. Although we do have plenty of trees around our home, we have adapted the idea by using our old Christmas trees. It’s a good way to enjoy the holiday a bit longer, and it also cheers up our children to know that they aren’t “saying good-bye” to the Christmas tree – it’s just going outside in the yard.

Where we live, we almost always have plenty of snow in early January. My husband secures our old Christmas tree in the deep snow in a corner of our yard so that it’s standing upright.

You could prop yours up against a fence or the side of a porch or garage, or even just lay it on its side. If you want to watch the birds and animals feeding at it, you’ll want it near to your house. If you don’t want critters too close to the house, just put the tree out farther.

Treats to Hang on the Tree

Night Tree by Eve Bunting provides lots of inspiration for ideas to hang on a nature tree for birds and other animals to feast on. Here are a few ideas from the book and from around the web to try:

apple or citrus fruit rings
whole apples or citrus fruits on strings
popcorn loops or chains
nuts and dried fruit (scattered on the ground)
cracked corn (scattered on the ground)
homemade birdseed wreaths (can be made in smaller sizes, too)
birdseed ornaments
homemade suet
apple birdfeeders
orange or grapefruit birdfeeders
cardboard tube feeders
fruit and grain feeders
cereal birdfeeders
bread birdfeeders
pinecone birdfeeders

Studying the Tree 

These simple, inexpensive projects are ideal for fine-motor work, keeping kids busy while cooped up in the cold weather, and for incorporating some science into your homeschooling. Couple this idea with some bird and wildlife books and a few North American bird notebooking pages and you have a winter nature study right outside your windows.

When the Christmas season comes to a close, it can be hard to leave behind the highs and joys of the holidays and transition back to homeschooling. Making a nature study tree for birds and other animals to feast at is one way to enjoy and celebrate the wonders of the winter season with your family.


  1. Love this idea! That book is also a favorite in our house.

  2. Thanks! :) It's a wonderful book.

  3. I love this idea, Jessica! We have a fake Christmas tree and we don't have any trees in our yard that would work :(, but our lovely neighbor has three enormous spruce trees which sit right outside our bit kitchen window. I'm wondering if he'd let us "decorate" his trees and then watch for critters from the comfort of our kitchen table???? Hmmmm..........

    1. It's worth asking. Who knows, it could open the doors of conversation and help to build a firmer neighborly relationship!

    2. Oh he's practically family anyhow, and a retired biologist to boot! He was thrilled and now we've got some critter food dangling from his lovely trees as I write! Jessica! So awesome!

    3. Krista, I'm so glad this worked out for you guys! I hope you get some fun critter visitors! We're going to be making our treats this week for when we put our tree outside next weekend. (Also, we already used the birdseed wreath recipe and made mini ones in our small doughnut pan and some slightly bigger ones using nesting bowls...We gave the wreaths to my parents who are bird lovers too, so they can replicate the idea at their house!).