Suet Bird Feeders

Winter is a tough time of year for many birds. What are the best feeders we can use to help birds in the winter time?

Many factors combine to make winters tough on our feathered friends.  The leaves have dropped, much of the flying food supply such as insects and ground based food like grubs have gone into hiding, and the food that is available can be hidden under a layer of ice and snow is often hidden under the snow.

A great choice for feeding birds in winter is a suet bird feeder.  Let's take a look at the advantages of suet.

Suet works well in cold weather.  In fact, when temperatures rise above 70 degrees F suet may start to melt, so you won't want to leave it out all year in most parts of the country.  Suet has a lot of fat content so has a lot of calories, and you can mix it with additional high energy foods such as peanuts to provide another protein source.  A good size suet cakes can feed for a long time so you be bothered with constantly refilling the feeder.

Suet is usually made from raw beef or mutton fat, with the highest energy content coming from fat found around the kidneys and loins. A couple of hundred years ago it was a common material that found a variety of uses for our forefathers, for example candle-making. For most uses it is put through a rendering process to get it in a form that can be used for many applications.  This rendering heats the fat and generates a wax like material which is then put to use in many applications.

After the raw suet is prepared, it can be shaped into suet cakes which typically resemble a sandwich in shape and size.  Often other ingredients like cracked peanuts are added to add to the protein level which results in a very high energy food. These are mixed in before the suet sets so they are evenly distributed through the block.  You can also buy commercially available suet blocks. There are a variety of them, some targeting different bird species, or special mixes like pepper suet or other ingredients to discourage squirrels and other pests. And you can alway try some suet recipes to mix up a batch of your own.

To use the suet cake you can simply place it somewhere the bird will find it, but this leaves it exposed to all sorts of other critters, and it may "walk off." The most common way to put it our is to use a simple suet feeder, which looks like a wire cage that is just large enough to hold a suet cake. Hang this on a tree or even attach it to the trunk of the tree and you are ready to go. Or you can smear some suet onto a pine cone and hang that in tree.

You can attract a wide variety of birds with a suet feeder, including goldfinches,woodpeckers, juncos, cardinals, thrushes, bluebirds, jays, and wrens.  Of course some less desirable birds like starlings may be attracted as well. You can discourage these with a bottom access feeder, as starlings won't feed on those. Squirrels are always a problem with bird feeders, and are best dealt with by mounting in a place that they can't get to by jumping or climbing, and you may want to add a squirrel baffle if you are using a pole mount. Or you may want to use a squirrel proof suet feeder that has an extra cage around the feeder.

Finally, you don't have to settle for a simple cage. There are a variety of decorative suet feeders, some that mount on a wall, others feeders mount on a pole. With feeders that look like sunflowers, a pagoda, or or other decorations a suet bird feeder can be a bright touch to your wintertime back yard.

Video of the Visitors to a Window Suet Feeder