Birds need trees for food and shelter, but trees actually need birds, too. Biological sciences have proven what my gut tells me: when my kid hangs a pinecone feeder in the Sugar Maple, the Sugar Maple likes it. And if the Sugar Maple likes it, well, then it's a perfect activity for Tu Bishvat, the birthday of the trees.

If a seed-laden nut-butter pinecone attracts more birds to a tree, chances are good some of those birds will hang around and chow down on bugs. We can keep the birds around with regularly maintained feeding stations that make our yards attractive to nest-building newlyweds in the spring, again augmenting the presence of birds, decimating the bugs, and thus benefiting our favorite trees.

The Jewish Reason

But there are other reasons we feed the birds at Tu Bishvat--super Jewy, traditional reasons. The Shabbat right before Tu Bishvat is Shabbat Shira, or Shabbat of the Song. A custom for Shabbat Shira is to feed the birds because, well, birds sing.
Plus, making these bird feeders any time of the year bags the kid-friendly mitzvah of tzaar baalei hayim, the commandment to take care of living creatures.

Re-Gifting is Good

Really, we're re-gifting. The tree already gave us the pinecone. We take that gift from the tree, add to it a creamy spread made from tree fruit (almond butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter), roll it in birdseed (likewise gleaned from the bounty of nature), and voila: a creatively repurposed gift aimed right back at the giver.

We have so much more to be grateful for to trees than just cones and fruit, of course. They also give us medicine, shade, wood, wildlife habitat, food, beauty, oxygen, carbon sequestration, rainfall interception, and a bazillion products we use every day.

If you are new to the classic pinecone feeder, here's a quick How-To.

You'll need:
Pine-cone
Nut butter (peanut, soy, almond, etc.)
Blunt knife for kid to spread with
Shallow bowl or plate
Birdseed
Biodegradable yarn to tie to tree limb

1. Let child smear pine-cone with nut butter and then roll the pine-cone in a plate of birdseed. 
2. Help her tie yarn to one end of pine-cone. 
3. Hang from a tree limb that can be seen from the inside of the house, so kids can see birds enjoying the gift.

Joanna Brichetto

Joanna Brichetto holds an MA in Jewish Studies from Vanderbilt University. She is a Jewish educator, mother of two, and blogs at Bible Belt Balabusta.