“You will recognize who is brave and who is shy,” said Sue Lucas, co-lead of Tyler Arboretum’s Bird Walks. On a misty morning, Sue and I re-stocked the Thankfulness Tree located in front of the Barn. We had decorated this tree, a Formosa juniper, Juniperus formosana to the right of the Barn, entirely with ornaments created for birds. Just as I reached over to refill the orange cups with seed, a fat little junco darted in and as quickly as I noticed him, away he went. He was a brave one. We heard a gaggle of robins in the background and under a bush a squirrel darted, rustling the leaves – all encouraging us to move along so they could eat.


We restocked on Friday, five days after we had originally decorated the tree. The preceding Monday, we were joined by 10 volunteers, Nancy Heinbaugh, volunteer coordinator and Sue’s daughter Chelsea in creating ornaments. From strings of fruit garlands made of whole peanuts, cranberries, apples and grapes to highly nutritious suet balls, we decorated to add to the bird’s winter food source.  You see, they are packing on calories to survive through leaner months. We filled orange cups with black oil sunflower seeds, and covered pine cones with peanut butter and bird seeds. And the birds came, clearly grateful for the energy dense food. On Friday, we only saw the cords that hung the seed ornaments that we carefully placed on Monday.

volunteers thankfulness tree

As we head into the holidays, I want to encourage everyone to reflect on the challenges that we all faced this year and will continue to face, probably into 2021. We’ve all had to adjust our daily routines and habits to a new way of life. We’ve made difficult choices, and adapted to new, and often lonelier, realities. In the midst of those challenges I like to think we can find new sources of joy. Perhaps you have found different ways of being with your loved ones, on socially distant walks in your local park. Perhaps you found an outdoor activity like birding, that your family loves and will adopt as a new tradition. Perhaps it is the first time that you have grown vegetables and shared your harvest from the overly productive zucchini plant with your neighbors and one of them returned the favor with a homemade zucchini bread. These are discoveries of oneself and one’s community. These discoveries remind us, amidst great difficulty, all we have to be thankful for. It is easy to dwell on all that we’ve lost, but we can choose instead to give thanks for all that we have discovered.

We created the Thankfulness Tree to celebrate those discoveries through the practice of giving. And we invite you to celebrate with us. Come see what acrobatic birds are feasting on the trees. Notice the diversity of species that visit. Get ideas of what to make at home to create your own Thankfulness Tree for your feathered friends. Invite your children to participate. Invite your neighbors. Build a new tradition, one based on the foundation of creating something simple that brings joy. The coming months may be difficult, but we can make them a little easier for our feathered friends. That is thankfulness in action.

Orange Cup Feeder

Below are instructions for how to create the ornaments we made for our tree. Videos will be added in December.

Orange Cups (Each orange will hold ½ cup of seed or less)


  • Sturdy unblemished oranges cut in half from the navel.  Remove orange flesh with a spoon.
  • Jute or Sisal cut to 20” in length, you will need 3
  • Skewer
  • Sewing needle made for accommodating yarn (most craft stores will carry this in the yarn section)
  • Small cup to place seeds
  • Bird seed of your choice

Skewer the orange cups in three spots, making sure that they are even.
Thread jute/sisal through needle and pull through the hole created. Tie jute to the cup and collect tops.
Hang cups up before filling.

Orange Cups Feeders

Peanut Butter Cones


  • Cones of all shapes and sizes. It is important that the cones are open and have gaps to place the peanut butter in.
  • Butter knife
  • Ribbon or jute (about 6”)
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Bird seeds of your choice. We used black oil sunflower seed

Start with tying the ribbon or jute to the cone by wrapping under the cone scales.
Smooth peanut butter under the scales as well as over.
Roll in seed and apply pressure so the seeds will stick.

Pine Cone Bird Feeders

Fruit Garlands


Any combination of:

  • Fresh cranberries
  • Green grapes
  • Apples – Cut up in 6 to 8 segments
  • Peanuts in shells for feeding birds

Dental Floss (2 ft to 6ft depending on tree and your patience)
Several cut up branches and twigs that are finger thickness
Sewing needle for yarn

Cut approximately 2 to 6 ft of floss. Tie one end to a branch and thread the other end through the needle. The twig should be able to weigh your garland and stop the fruit from pulling through. Start stacking the fruit and tie off with another twig.


Seed Ornaments


  • 2 cups of bird seed (any kind)
  • 2 packets of powdered plain gelatin
  • ½ cup of hot water
  • Spatula, mixing bowl, whisk (not pictured) and measuring cup.
  • Pan spray (not pictured)
  • Misc. cookie cutters (I found plain cookie cutters worked better than ones with intricate shapes) and/or mini cupcake pan or mini cake pan.
  • Parchment paper placed on cookie sheet (not pictured)
  • Paper Straws cut to 2” tall
  • Bamboo skewer that would fit through the straws
  • Jute or ribbon *

Seed Ornaments*I recommend that the length of the jute should be 3x the length of the ornament and then multiply by 2.  For example, 1” ornament should be tied with a 6” jute.

Place all cutters on parchment paper/cookie pan. Spray all cutters/pans with pan spray.
Place gelatin and hot water in the bowl and whisk until all gelatin has melted.
Pour 2 cups of bird seed into the bowl and with the spatula, coat the seeds with the gelatin.
While it is still warm, quickly place the seeds into the cookie cutter (which are on top of parchment) or cake pan.
Press firmly as you go.
Once you have the cutters/pan filled, insert straw to the center and press firmly around.
Place in the freezer for 1 hour.
Place another piece of parchment on the counter.
Remove the seeds ornaments from the cutter/pan by tapping them on the counter.  They should slide out easily and on to the parchment. Distribute evenly so the ornaments can thaw.
Wait for the seed ornaments to warm up. Insert the bamboo skewer into the straw to clear the hole.
Thread jute or ribbon through.
Place the ornaments on tray and in a cool room to set further.


Be on the lookout for our how-to-videos on more bird ornaments featuring the above.

We will also be posting invites to you and your family to come and hang the ornaments that you’ve created. Take pictures and build memories of Thankfulness in Action. Use #ThankfulnessTree.