When Christmas passes, the first question many people have is how are they going to dispose of their live Christmas tree?

Strike that – the first thing people think about is how are they going to get their kids to stop arguing over new toys? Once they get those disputes resolved, then they turn their attention to getting rid of the tree in the living room. 

If you enjoy seeing birds and other wildlife around your home, your Christmas tree – if it’s a live tree – may be able to add to your nature viewing enjoyment.

Cedars, firs, spruce and pines provide good shelter for a variety of birds, in addition to rabbits and other small mammals. Before tossing out that live tree in the trash or burning it, consider its possibilities as wildlife habitat.

For birds like juncos, native sparrows, cardinals and other species that prefer eating on the ground, a discarded live Christmas tree could become a favorite dining spot. Scatter corn, millet or other grain mixes around the tree and you’ve provided these birds with a great feeding area.

Ground-feeding birds will flock to areas where they can feed and, at the same time, be sheltered from the wind, the elements and predators. Of course, make sure they’re feeding out of the wind. Putting the grain on the south side of the discarded tree is a good way to ensure they have shelter from cold north winds.

Keep in mind that having some type of open water source (bird bath, water dish, etc.) is an essential part of attracting birds, too. Also, if you live inside the city limits, make sure the pile you have made out of your discarded tree and any other branches you have gathered isn’t in violation of any city ordinances that pertain to disposal of brush and tree debris.

For people who live in rural areas and either enjoy hunting rabbits or they want to build a brush pile to provide habitat for small mammals, ground-nesting birds and reptiles; Christmas trees are great additions to brush piles.

Keep in mind that one evergreen tree will provide only a limited amount of cover for wildlife. It’s best to either combine your Christmas tree with other brush or collect several discarded evergreens. (Maybe neighbors who are going to throw away their Christmas trees would be happy to give them to you.)

Constructing a brush pile on a base of larger materials will provide tunnels and openings at ground level. Pole-sized logs, stumps or piled rocks all work well in providing these types of bases for brush piles.

Brush piles should be placed at intervals near feeding areas, along field borders and within idle fields or abandoned areas. Avoid the bottoms of drainages and low spots where standing water might render the brush pile useless.

Using a live Christmas tree to improve wildlife around your home is another way to show what many people have known for a long time; that Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife resources.

By Francis Skalicky

(Francis Skalicky works for the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)