A birder’s poem for Christmas

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winter bird

Every December, readers make two requests: please reprint your Christmas poem and your suet recipe. I’m happy to oblige. I offer this a bit early to get a jump on Christmas. 

First published in 1988, the poem is an attempt to instill in younger family members a sense of the wonder and fun that backyard feeder birds provide. My hope is that parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even older siblings might gather the children of the family by a window near the bird feeders and read the poem aloud. 

See how many tries it takes to read it perfectly. It’s not as easy as it sounds. 

The Morning of Christmas

(with apologies to Clement C. Moore)

‘Twas the morning of Christmas,
And all ‘round the house,
The feeders were empty,
Not enough for a mouse.
Each feeder was hung
From its perch with great care,
But on this frosty morning,
The cupboards were bare.

Tubes, trays and suet bags…
Too many to mention.
In the Christmas Eve rush
They’d escaped my attention.

The rising sun on the breast of a new fallen snow,
Accented the vacuum in the feeders below.
I couldn’t believe it, I’d stayed up too late.
I’d forgotten my friends on this most special date. 

A ravenous flock perched in dawn’s early light,
Reminding me clearly of last night’s oversight.
Impatient, they perched in an old apple tree,
Famished and anxious, some scolded me. 

Ashamed and embarrassed, I flew down the stairs,
I whistled and shouted like a big angry bear.
“Now Linda, now Nora, and Emma, you too.
We’ve got empty feeders, there’s so much to do!”

I spoke no more words, we all went to work,
We filled every feeder, I’d been such a jerk. 

The birds quickly forgave me and flocked to the food,
I knew in a moment, they’d lost their foul mood.
Cardinals and grosbeaks and nuthatches, too,
Were first to arrive at my backyard bird zoo.
The sunflower seed disappeared with great speed,
I smiled contently; I’d fixed my misdeed. 

Then finches and siskins sought the feeder with thistle,
They flew so directly, each looked like a missile. 

Soon sparrows and doves found their way to the tray,
And hungrily joined the late breakfast fray. 

Even the water dish pulled in a crowd,
The titmice and chickadees were certainly loud. 

When woodpeckers finally found the new suet,
We were completely forgiven; the whole family knew it. 

I began to feel better, I’d made up for my goof;
When suddenly a voice caught my ear from the roof.
(You may not believe this, but I swear it’s the truth.)
From a perch at the top, sang a sassy Blue Jay,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good day!” 

The End

No-melt, Peanut Butter Suet

My thanks for this recipe to friend and Alabama birder Martha Sargent. Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and blue jays also thank Martha for their favorite winter treat. Ingredients:

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups “quick cook” oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup lard (no substitutes here)
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar

Feel free to experiment by adding raisins, sunflower kernels, and nut pieces. 

Melt lard and peanut butter over low heat, then stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into square or rectangular cake pan about 1.5 inches thick. Place in freezer for 30 minutes to allow suet to harden a bit, then cut blocks to fit your suet basket. Separate blocks with wax paper, and store in freezer in plastic bags.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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