To entice the widest variety of birds to your feeding station, you’ve got to offer more than seeds. Some birds, especially those that mainly eat insects, simply aren’t interested in seeds. Discerning mockingbirds, bluebirds, and wrens will flock to suet, however.
Birds that cling to tree trunks or hang upside-down while feeding also enjoy suet. These include woodpeckers, flickers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, warblers, juncos, kinglets and goldfinches. Larger bluebirds, robins, jays, starlings, orioles, catbirds, and cardinals also love suet if it’s offered in a feeder with a perch or on a platform.
So what is this highly desirable food? Suet is hard beef or mutton fat that’s found in the animals’ kidney area. It’s readily available in raw form in the meat case at the grocery store or butcher shop. Stores and catalogs that offer bird-feeding supplies sell processed or rendered suet , usually mixed with seeds. Rendered suet has a shelf life and remains solid at higher temperatures. It’s easy to make your own custom suet recipes. Here’s how:
1. Grind or finely chop raw beef suet. The butcher may grind it for you, if you ask.
2. Heat the ground suet slowly in a heavy pan until it’s melted. You may want to do this outdoors to keep the greasy smell out of your house, or run the exhaust fan over the stove.
3. Strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth to remove all the solid bits and then allow it to cool.
4. Melt and strain it a second time. This step hardens the suet to the right consistency and improves its shelf life.
5. Add seeds, cornmeal, oatmeal, peanut butter, or chopped dried fruit after the second melting as the fat begins to cool and solidify.
6. Fill muffin tins, tuna cans, or a loaf pan with the mixture, or roll it into balls. Line pans with plastic wrap to make removal and clean up easier. Insert wire or twine hangers before the suet hardens.
Choose a suet feeder that matches the preferences of the birds you want to attract. Small, clinging birds like suet feeders that are enclosed on all sides except the bottom. This type of feeder excludes starlings, jays, and other large greedy birds. For woodpeckers and nuthatches, drill holes in a short length of cedar post or other rough-surface log and fill the holes with rendered suet. You can also simply smear the suet directly on the bark of trees.
Birds aren’t the only creatures that love suet, however. Dogs, squirrels, bears, and raccoons can become a real nuisance. It’s important to hang suet out of the reach of dogs because they’ll take off with the whole feeder. Use bird feeder baffles and barriers to keep squirrels and raccoons at bay. If bears frequent your neck of the woods, wait until they go into hibernation before putting out suet and take it down before they wake up in the spring.
For more information on birds and birding and to join Project FeederWatch, visit the Cornell University website.