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
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
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.