News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Creating wildlife-safe holiday decoration

As Halloween approaches, neighborhoods across Central Oregon will soon be adorned with festive, spooky decorations. From the eerie glow of jack-o'-lanterns to cobweb-draped porches, this whimsical holiday is celebrated through creative displays. Our spirited designs don't stop on October 31; they transition into joyful fall and winter holiday décor.

However, there is a frightening side to some of our fun adornments.

From nimble chickadees to graceful deer, wildlife can be victims of our sprightly yards. To prevent tricking our wild friends, we can use alternatives that ensure the spirit stays alive while keeping our wildlife safe.

Spooky! The seemingly harmless, fake spider webbing, often stretched across yards and porches, poses significant threats to our avian neighbors. Birds become entangled in the fine threads, like prey in spiderwebs. Injuries or death can result from their struggles.

Other decorations, such as thread, yarn, lights, and fake garland, also threaten birds and other wildlife. Rescue organizations regularly get animals entwined or harmed by fishing line, thread, or plastics. Who hasn't seen a photo of some hapless deer with lights bound up in his antlers?

Safe: The inside of a home is a safer location for faux spider webbing. Hang it on the inside of a window for a spooky effect. Or, paint spiderwebs on a black sheet, attach fake paper spiders and drape over plants. Install lights on the home or a structure instead of across spaces. Hang garland elements individually. Avoid thread-like materials longer than four inches.

Spooky! Mirror, mirror! Even the wicked queen probably hates it when birds fly headlong into her windows. Birds collide with windows because they do not see it or they see the reflection of a safe landscape. Unpredictable, noisy displays can frighten birds right into those reflections. Windows are the ultimate trick!

Safe: There are many commercial or homemade solutions to stop birds hitting windows. Outside, adorn windows with crafty, safe decorations. Simple garden netting installed vertically and very taut (on plant hangers or cup hooks) prevents bird collisions. Dotted window film also works. Or, let the kids get artsy with window paints!

Spooky! Oiled birds perish. Suet pine cones, balls, and wreaths are frightening for birds when they get the fat on their feet and feathers by landing on them. Fats spread into birds' feathers through scratching and preening. Oils ruin feathers' insulating properties, and the bird suffers from hypothermia and eventual starvation as preening takes over feeding. (Fats do not come off with birds' saliva.)

Safe: Use gelatin instead! Make edible balls, wreaths, or spooky shapes with cookie cutters using gelatin to hold seeds together (recipe online). Use a no-mess seed (sunflower chips, thistle, millet, dried fruits); avoid flour and corn syrup. Or, house suet inside a clean suet cage; squirrel-proof feeders keep birds clean.

Spooky! In yards morphed into enchanting spectacles, other dangers lurk. Sharp objects like nails, toothpicks, or wire securing pumpkins can be accidentally eaten by deer. Birds will ingest fake berries or shiny objects, thinking they are edible. Edible items decorated with toxic paints or preserved with chemicals can poison wildlife.

Safe: Go natural! Use leaf piles for decorating, then spread the leaves out or place under bushes for wintering insects. In Spring and summer, birds eat insects and feed them to their babies. Be cautious with decorating tools and items. Keep edible foods toxin and danger-free.

Year-round: Few injured animals are ever seen. Examine displays for animals in need. Entrapped birds and deer need a professional to free them safely; contact a wildlife rescue or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Windows cause serious injuries, at least a concussion (which prevents eating and staying warm). Many birds can still fly yet perish later. To help them, collect window-stricken birds immediately; do not let them fly off.

Think thoughtfully before trying the plethora of (often poor) ideas on the internet. Wildlife can run into trouble in the human setting. With fun, safe alternatives, our festive holidays do not have to be scary for our wild neighbors.

Elise Wolf is an avian rehabilitator and wildlife advocate with Native Bird Care Rescue. For recipes and window solutions, go to


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