Why Feed Suet?
Suet is a key dish to offer at your dining buffet during the fall and winter when birds need good sources of fat and calories to help them survive harsh, cold weather. Bird suet is specifically formulated for insect-eating birds for when their crawly food source become scarce.
Look for these birds and more at your suet feeder! Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers, chickadees both Mountain and Black-capped, all three nuthatch species, Bushtits, Flickers and even Western Tanagers and some warblers during migration. Suet-eating birds have the ability to cling to the hanging feeder and will even hang upside-down as they feed!
Is there a quality and price difference between suets? Absolutely. Just like anything in the wild bird or other industry, you have your cheap options full of filler ingredients with the lowest nutritional value, and you have quality, nutritional options. I strongly encourage you to buy and feed wild bird products based on quality, not based on price. Here’s how to compare suet brands on the market. First, just like when you buy food for yourself, look at the ingredient list and nutritional value. The 1st ingredient must be “rendered beef fat.” If it’s a grain, don’t bother. However, all suet cakes do have grains in them as it keeps the cakes from melting and provides structural form. Second, look at the crude protein and fat percentages. The higher the numbers, the better quality and greater energy per penny spent your birds receive!
How to Feed Suet & Types of Feeders
There are lots of different feeders out there, but there are functional differences in addition to cosmetic. My #1 criteria is to make sure the clasp mechanism is secure, or else squirrels will lift the cake out immediately and disappear. Most of the cheap wire baskets are prone to losing cakes daily to those marauders. I used twist ties for years and years, until I got tired of the mess and hassle. As with any feeder, invest a fraction more upfront and you’ll get years of enjoyment.
Materials: Recycled plastic feeders last longer, and are less prone to getting chewed apart by squirrels. Wood offers a more natural gripping surface for the clingers.
Tail-Prop Feeders: These are favored by the larger woodpeckers, the Flicker and Hairy, as it gives them the counter-balance and stability to feed comfortably.
Diamond Small Clinger: Chickadees, Nuthatches and Downy love this design! The larger birds will use this style, but prefer tail-props.
Squirrel & Magpie Proof: these “cages within cages” keep the suet out of reach of these guys, while allowing smaller birds to enter. Some designs keep larger Flickers from feeding, while others allow them.
Roofs/Weather shields: my upside-down clinger feeder keeps the suet out of the direct hot sun.
Feeder Placement: Locate suet feeders at least five feet from the ground and close to a tree trunk. Remember that the birds that enjoy suet usually naturally cling to tree trunks in search of insects. The close proximity to the tree not only encourages suet feeding, but also protects the suet from the sun's heat - a very important factor in summer months when suet quickly becomes rancid in the hot sun.
Common Questions & Answers:
Can I make my own?
Yes you can, but it’s not easy! Luckily as a kid I didn’t have to clean up my mom’s Cuisanart after my project. Plus, raw suet really needs to be rendered (heated, strained and cooled two to three times) in order for the suet to not go rancid. Now, I just spend a few bucks and buy it.
Do you feed suet year round?
Sort of. I used to say “Yes!” In spring, suet meets the increased energy demands of migrating birds, and during the time where insects are just coming out. In the summer months, it provides a good substitute for insect-eating birds, especially in years when insects are not very plentiful. In fall, suet helps wild birds store fat to prepare for migration or the coming winter. And of course, in winter, suet replenishes depleted stores of energy and nutrients, to help birds survive the long, cold months.
However, I do not feed traditional suet, even the no-melt kind, in the three hottest months of the summer (June, July & August). Here’s why – the most recent science is speculating that suet grease may adversely impact the formation of the “brood patch,” the bare spot developed on both male and female woodpecker bellies for incubation. Until the science progresses, I instead feed a high protein peanut cake or a “Bugs & Nuts” blend during the summer.
Bears: If you live in bear habitat – I strongly suggest feeding suet only when they are in hibernation. Suet is a huge calorie gold-mine for birds, and bears!
Does suet go rancid?
It can, but if you are feeding high quality suet, it should be eaten before that happens. Or, if you don’t have enough suet eating birds in your neighborhood, it can turn as well. If it has a strong odor, or hasn’t been touched for a few weeks, change it out.
Do you have more questions? Fly on in and ask Your backyard birding experts.
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