Chances are that among this year’s Christmas cards, there are a few songbirds adorning the covers. Perhaps it’s a bright red cardinal perched on a holly branch or an adorable nuthatch wearing a Santa hat. Birds are a popular part of holiday décor, and can be found everywhere—on greeting cards, ornaments, cookie tins, wrapping paper, candles, figurines, wreaths, and many other seasonal items, depicted in photographs, illustrations, and paintings. But why are these particular species such popular icons of winter holidays?
Most Popular Holiday Bird Species
These colorful songbirds are most often featured on holiday decorations:
1. Black-Capped Chickadee
2. Blue Jay
3. Eurasian Bullfinch
4. European Robin
5. Northern Cardinal
6. Snowy Owl
7. White-Breasted Nuthatch
Other Bird Species
In addition to the above identifiable bird species, more generic birds are often part of holiday decoration flocks. Doves, owls, penguins, and stylized versions of popular holiday carol birds such as a partridge in a pear tree or seven swans a-swimming are common decorations. Furthermore, themed holiday cards may highlight even more unusual birds, such as flamingos, toucans, and parrots on tropical greeting cards.
Why These Birds?
Birds featured on holiday cards offer a beautiful glimpse of nature when we are often stuck indoors because of harsh winter weather. When a species is identifiable, it is typically a species that stays in its range year-round, so it can be seen in winter. Cardinals, chickadees, bullfinches, and other “holiday” songbirds are birds that retain their colorful plumage through the winter. They are bright, cheerful visitors to winter feeding stations.
These birds often travel in flocks and when a flock alights in a bare winter tree or among the branches of a pine dusted with snow, they can seem like living, fluttering holiday ornaments straight from nature.
Winter birds serve more symbolic purposes in holiday decorations as well. Because these birds survive through the most brutal winter weather, they offer hope that the season will improve and spring will return again. This sense of hope and renewal is common in many faiths during the Christmas season.
Nurturing Your Holiday Birds
The best bird-themed holiday decorations of all are the feathered visitors at your birdfeeders. No matter which birds spend the winter in your yard, offering rich, high-fat foods such as suet, nuts, peanut butter, Nyjer seed, and sunflower seeds can provide adequate calories for good energy on cold days and nights.
Birds also need a source of fresh, clean water to drink in winter. While some birds will nibble at snow to meet their moisture needs, too much snow and ice can chill them from the inside. Heated bird baths are a great option for keeping water from freezing, or immersible heaters can be added to existing bird baths to keep them liquid. Be sure any heaters are rated for bird bath use, and that cords and outlets are protected from moisture to lower the risk of shorts.
Good shelter will also help protect birds throughout the winter months. Thick, evergreen landscaping is ideal, and plants should be arranged in layers to provide a safe refuge out of the wind and snow for birds to take advantage of. A brush pile or loose wood pile is another option, and winter roost boxes can be added to the yard for small birds such as bluebirds, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers to use on the coldest nights.
There are many beautiful birds that shine as part of holiday decorations and seasonal greeting cards. By understanding why different birds are common holiday symbols, we can better understand our winter birds, the joy they bring to our lives, and how we can support and nurture them all winter long.
Melissa Mayntz is a freelance writer and birder, naturally writing about birds. She published her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds in spring 2020. Find her at Be Your Own Birder and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.