New Celebrants for Old Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree on the curb
Courtesy University of Illinois Extension

As a word, “repurposing” grates a little on my ear, but the concept is laudable. At my home, we reuse items in new ways for birdfeeding. Our main bird feeder hangs from the trunk of a venerable old apple tree in our backyard. In winter, the apple offers fruits and perches aplenty, but no cover for hungry juncos, chickadees and finches.

What they want are the thick boughs of a conifer. After every Christmas, there is just such a tree, all decorated, standing in our living room. Rather than hurling that tree on the municipal heap straightaway — a rather abrupt fall from grace, if you ask me — we prop it up beneath our feeder, giving it new purpose as a shelter for feeding birds. They duck in and out of its needled boughs all day long. Some even roost there at night. Beneath it, ground feeding birds can safely clean up the seeds that rain down from the feeder above. A ring of upturned tomato cages beneath the feeder — that otherwise lie idle in our vegetable garden — are given a winter purpose of impeding any stray cats interested in the birds beneath our seed feeder. For no cost and scant effort, we provide our feeder birds with shelter from winter storms and protection from feline predators.

Don’t forget water for the birds in winter. Open water can be a scarce commodity. In areas with freezing temperatures, there are heating elements to put in an existing birdbath or baths with a heating element encased in the base. In our yard, the birdbath is as popular as the seed feeders.

Birds appreciate the simple gifts: shelter from a discarded Christmas tree, a feeder full of seed and water to drink.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Bird Sounds: Courtesy Kevin Colver

Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Bird Habitat Necessities,,


Xeric Gardening with Native Plants

Fire Chalice or Zauschneria latifolia
Courtesy: Intermountain Native Plant
Growers Association,

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

As the days lengthen and gardeners dream of the planting season to come, I urge you to consider plants adapted to our desert climate. Perhaps there are dry corners where your irrigation does not reach. Or you tire of watching the rivulets of water that run down the gutter from trying to grow grass in the strip between sidewalk and road. These are ideal areas to experiment with drought tolerant plants.

As more of us have become aware of the need to conserve water, the availability of gardening resources has increased. Many local and mail order nurseries now have a good selection of drought tolerant or xeriscape plants.

Maple Mallow, Illiamna_rivularis
Copyright 2008 Jim Cane

The Intermountain Plant Growers Association labels nursery plants with a special tag as Utah’s Choice. Utah’s Choice plants are well adapted to the climate of the intermountain west and are a good starting point for choosing plants.

One of my favorite Utah’s Choice plants is Fire Chalice or Zauschneria latifolia. It is a spreading perennial plant that is covered in fiery red tubular flowers from midsummer til frost. Hummingbirds avidly visit this carefree, drought-tolerant plant.

Globe Mallow Flower
Sphaeralcea ambigua
Copyright 2006-2008 Jim Cane

Maple Mallow or Illiamna rivularis is another favorite perennial. This bushy, waist-high resident of the higher mountains does well in my garden here in Logan. It is in partial sun and gets weekly watering. It is covered in large, pale pink flowers through much of the summer.

Globe mallows, genus Sphaeralcea, are another useful xeric perennial. They require bright sunshine and tolerate heavy soils. Among our natives, they are unusual for their profusion of orange-colored flowers.

These are just a few examples of the wealth of possibilities. By choosing plants adapted to your environment, you take the garden path of less resistance. When you consider the rainfall, soil and sun exposure of your yard and choose plants adapted for those conditions, you struggle less and enjoy your garden more.

Globe Mallow Plant
Sphaeralcea ambigua
Copyright 2006-2008 Jim Cane

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © 2008 Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association,

Also Courtesy & Copyright © 2008 Jim Cane

Text: Linda Kervin & Jim Cane

Additional Reading:

Xeriscape Bloom
Copyright 2008 Jim Cane

INPGA: Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association, formerly at

Wildland Nursery, Joseph, UT, formerly at

Men’s Hair and the Male House Finch

Male House Finch, Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer
Male House Finch
Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

A man’s vanity is nowhere more apparent than for the hair atop his head. As men age, their hair may whiten, thin or disappear. As a remedy, some men use dyes or hair growth potions.

But imagine this: What if the right food alone could restore the virile dark hair of youth?

There is a common songbird at your birdfeeder this winter that can do just this. It is the male house finch.

[House Finch Call – #3 Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country]

As with many songbirds, the female house finch is drab compared to the brightly colored male. He sports a showy brow and bib in colors that range from tomato red to orange to straw yellow. Like the tomato and carrot, these colors come from pigments called carotenoids. All birds with red feathers get these carotenoid pigments from their diet, ultimately from the plants that can produce them.

What does the red feather color mean for the house finch?

The ornathologist Geof Hill of Auburn University experimentally altered head feather colors of male house finches. To make red-headed males into carrot tops, Jeff used peroxide. Red hair die achieved the opposite transformation. He then let the guys compete for the attentions of females.

Jeff’s experiments demonstrated that plumage does make the male. The redder the male’s head, the higher his place in the pecking order. And the more females that he could attract. Conversely, redheads lost rank after bleaching. Among male house finches, blondes really don’t have more fun.

So now you can predict the likely winners and losers in the mating game from just a glance at the male house finches at your seed feeder. As is common in science, this discovery leads to new questions: What food makes the male’s head feathers red? Is it some red fruit or berry? Why do some males manage to get more carotenoid pigments than others? Do they instinctively know the right seed or fruit to eat? We humans must get our carotenoids from plant sources too, such as the carotine that we transform into Vitamin A for night vision. The produce aisle at the grocery store might be a much different place though if the right fruit or vegetable could transform our hair color too.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer
Bird Sounds: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Dr. Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country
Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice: Linda Kervin

Additional Reading:

House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah,

House Finch, Utah Bird Profile,,

A Red Bird in a Brown Bag: The Function and Evolution of Colorful Plumage in the House Finch , Dr. Geoffrey, E. Hill, Oxford University Press, September 2002
ISBN-13: 9780195148480,