Yes, you could say Christmas is ‘for the birds’


(Author’s note: Every December I get requests to reprint my version of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas I first published in 1988. Merry Christmas everyone!)

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 the 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 a real jerk.

The birds quickly forgave me and flocked to the food,
I knew in 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 contentedly, I’d fixed my misdeed.

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

Soon sparrows and juncos ventured onto the tray,
Hungrily joining the late breakfast fray.

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

When woodpeckers finally found the fresh 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

* * *

Winter water

Water sustains all life, so it should come as no surprise that birds drink water whenever it is available — even during winter.

In many cases, winter water proves as popular as food. And despite the term, “bird bath,” winter water is for drinking. Birds usually stay on the edge of the saucer and often don’t even get their feet wet.

This December has been surprisingly cold. I’ve had single digit temperatures on the back porch several times already this month. So the key to providing winter water is to keep it from freezing.

A submersible, thermostatically controlled water heater is one way to keep water in its liquid form. Submersible bird bath heaters are variations on livestock water heaters that have been around for years. They can keep at least a small pool of water from freezing even during sub-zero temperatures.

And built-in safety features ensure that if the bath runs dry or the weather warms up, the heater shuts off.

Another important tip is to keep water away from feeders. Seeds, hulls, and droppings foul water quickly. Save yourself a lot of cleaning time by keeping baths away from feeders.

Unfortunately, submersible bird bath heaters aren’t cheap; expect to pay at least $50 for a quality heater.

If a heated bird bath sounds like too much bother and expense, there is a simple alternative. Just put out a dish of warm water every morning. Birds quickly learn to arrive before the water freezes. Birds that find their food and water in one spot will naturally spend more time there.

So regardless of the season, bird baths make backyards more appealing to many birds. Providing winter water is just one more way to make your backyard more attractive to a greater variety of birds.


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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, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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