Winter Bird Feeders: DIY Junco Stars

American Bushtits feeding on seedheads in a native rubber rabbitbush shrub. American Bushtits feeding on seed heads in a native rubber rabbitbush shrub. (Look closely and you’ll see four of them–two of the tiny birds are inside the bush, two are on top. They live in flocks and chatter while they feed, so I often hear them before I see them.)

I don’t generally put out bird feeders. I prefer to provide natural food by planting species native to my area that offer food and habitat throughout the year.

People like bird feeders because they attract large concentrations of birds and bring them close where we can watch them. Those attributes create problems for the birds though.

Concentrating birds in one place spreads disease, and the noise of their feeding flocks attracts bird predators, from free-roaming cats to speedy and agile bird hawks like Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Bringing the birds closer to the house increases the likelihood of collisions with windows. Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology estimates that bird-window collisions kill as many as 100 million birds a year, mostly small songbirds of the sort attracted to feeders.

Still, winter is a tough time for birds, especially during storms. That’s when I hang out my “junco stars,” fat and nutrition-laden wood cutouts aimed at feeding juncos, chickadees, and other small seed-eating birds that shelter in the native shrubs along the creek below my house.

Junco picking bits of nut and fruit from a star in a snowstorm. Junco picking bits of nut and fruit from a star in a snowstorm.

The stars are small enough that only one bird at a time can perch on them, which reduces crowding issues. I hang them away from windows, and I don’t leave them up when the weather improves, so they don’t attract predators.

Junco stars easy to make for yourself with particle board, wire or twine, a drill and a jig- or band saw. Start with a 3/4-inch thick sheet of unfinished MDF or particle board, and trace a simple five-pointed star on the flat surface of the board. (You can use any shape you want as long as it has “arms” where the birds can perch.)

Use the saw to carefully cut out the shape. Sand off any rough spots, drill a hole for twine or wire to hang up the star in the top point, and you’re ready to “load” the star with food.

Stars waiting for a base layer of peanut butter and then a coat of nuts and dried fruits. Well-used stars waiting for a base layer of peanut butter and then a coat of nuts and dried fruits.

I slather them with fresh-ground organic peanut butter as a base layer. (Fresh-ground peanut butter has no additives that might hurt the birds; if it’s organic, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include pesticides either.)

After coating with chopped nuts and dried fruits.... Coating with chopped nuts and dried fruits….

Then I roll or press the stars into a mix of chopped organic raisins, cranberries, and pecans. (You can use any fruits or nuts you want, but again, make sure they’re only fruit and nuts without additives. Research shows that fruits high in anti-oxidants are best for birds, just as they’re best for us.)

When the stars thoroughly coated, I hang them in a place that’s sheltered, near natural perches and out of reach of the mule deer in my neighborhood so they don’t get the food before the birds do. Then I watch to see who comes to feed at my stars!

A junco star hanging by my workshop A junco star hanging by my workshop