HAYWARD -- The critters around Sulphur Creek Nature Center feasted this week, with their naturally meager winter rations augmented by pine cones smeared with an oatmeal gruel and strings of popcorn and dried fruits, edible decorations dangling from trees.
The popular "Mother Nature's Holiday Gift" program saw more than 50 people -- mainly parents and their young children -- come through in the first hour Tuesday and by midafternoon the lowest branches of the trees nearest the center were well adorned with presents for the local fauna.
"Song birds, squirrels and raccoons," said Sulphur Creek volunteer Deb Sisson when asked about the beneficiaries.
While residents are not advised to become a wild animal's sole source of food, center volunteers said occasional snacks of a natural, healthy variety aren't bad and can help them survive through the winter.
Volunteer Cookie Daniel showed off another project being tackled by young, eager hands: A "nest helper" -- a toilet paper tube that has been riddled with holes and stuffed with sticks and straw that in turn are harvested by home-building birds.
"In winter, people don't realize that (the birds) are still making nests," Daniel said.
Chris Olachea was there with his wife, 6-year-old daughter, 8-year-old niece and his mother-in-law. He said it's a great family activity and he came by to support Sulphur Creek, where he, too, was a volunteer three decades ago -- when he was about 12 years old.
Since then, he's moved to Southern California but when he's in town visiting family, he inevitably stops by.
"It's important," he said of the center's mission. "You got to do things that teach younger kids how to help animals out."
For more information on programs offered, visit haywardrec.org and click on Sulphur Creek under the Facilities tab.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.