Fatten Up Your Birds! | Use suet to help winter birds.

Fatten Up Your Birds! | Use suet to help winter birds.

Fatten Up Your Holiday Birds

Thinking of animals during cold winter months often dredges up images of sleeping bears full of fat with a rotund shape. However, our favorite backyard birds are not capable of such a slumbering feat. Instead, birds that reside in regions with a tempest of winter must find food constantly to prevent starvation or freezing to death, or they must have a store of fat capable of fueling them between bouts of food finding. For birds in the backyard, there is quick and highly accessible food source bird lovers can provide that offer a high calorie and fat content for winter survival.

What is suet?

While the word suet literally means grease or hard animal fat, in the world of feeding birds, we use suet as a general term to describe a feed type loved by many humans as an attractant for birds. Suet is an often-discarded element and is derived from rendered animal fat and then refined. Usually, this lard originates from beef, but pork is sometimes used as well. This refined fat is molded into a desired shape, after being filled with a variety of ingredients included to attract the attention of several different bird species. Sometimes suet is then coated in another food type or is cut up for various uses. The most common suet usually comes in a square and is individually wrapped to prevent the loss of moisture or the spoiling of its core ingredients. Suet may often be described as suet dough, suet plugs, suet nuggets, or suet wreaths depending on its use and how it is created, which is covered in the next section.

A Hairy Woodpecker and a Western Tanager sit on a Birds Choice double suet cake feeder.
A Hairy Woodpecker and a Western Tanager share a suet feeder.

 

How is suet made?

To make bird feeding suet, lard or fat is melted and filtered multiple times, and any elements that are not fats are separated out of the remaining fat. These are then either cooled and shaped, or filled with grains, fruits, or insect parts. If the suet is shaped into smaller pieces, it is often called a suet plug, designed for a specific feeder type. Suet can fabricated to have a higher melting point, where it is less likely to make a mess in higher temperatures. This final product is often referred to as suet dough. Suet dough is preferred over suet during spring, summer, and fall by bird lovers, as it is less messy for changing and cleaning.

What ingredients are found in suet?

The primary ingredient in suet is the refined beef or pork tallow. However, seeds, fruits, and even insects are used to help create the suet block. Corn and/or peanuts often are laid as the second foundational element of suet. They are both desired by highly desired by birds and are supplemented with additional items such as millet, milo, mealworms, or fruits. Some suets hold orange pieces or berries as the essential attractant for frugivorous birds (fruit-eaters), while another number of suets host mealworm pieces that insectivorous birds (insect-eaters) would find more appealing than sunflower seeds, peanuts, or corn.

A Western Tanager enjoys some Birds Choice suet.
A Western Tanager visits a tail prop suet feeder.

Why is suet important?

Birds, even small birds, can survive without food for a significant amount of time. However, during cold temperatures and major precipitation events like snow or rain, food and energy requirements increase. A bird’s heat comes from its metabolism, and to ensure a safe and healthy body temperature during bad weather, birds must have the fuel and energy to keep that metabolism churning.

In an environment untouched by human hands, many species, including several species of common feeder birds, will feed upon mammal carcasses to incorporate more fats into their diets. This fact supports the use of suet cakes as a supplement to feeder birds that utilize a higher amount of fats during the colder months. The suet helps provide the quick fuel up and fat storage build of many species, and bird lovers get to appreciate the diversity of birds taking advantage of this unique food offering.

Birds Choice offers an extensive variety of suet cakes, plugs, nuggets, and spread. Pick some favorites to help more birds!

How to offer suet to birds

Suet is a fairly easy food option to present to birds, and the variety of suet feeders available from Birds Choice will attract every size and shape of bird in your region. Cages are the most typical option found in feeder aisles, but Birds Choice goes one step further to help and attract more birds to a backyard.

Suet Cage

This simple cage is versatile and will host a variety of birds but may also attract species that can be bullies at feeders. It may also be susceptible to visits from local squirrels.

Single Cake Feeder

Medium-sized birds will appreciate the perch that these feeders can provide. They add a bit more style and color to a feeding buffet.

A Bullock's Oriole sits on a suet feeder.

Double Cake Feeder

For heavy travelers, a double suet cake feeder allows for more food to be available to birds for a longer duration. Also, a double suet feeder that is tall, offers a chance for longer and taller birds to fill up!

 A double suet cake feeder holds multiple birds.

Suet Cage with Tail Prop

Tail prop suet feeders offer a crucial element to woodpeckers, a place to secure their tail. Woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers that are used to prop their bodies up while feeding, and large woodpeckers especially appreciate a suet feeder with a tail prop.

A Hairy Woodpecker sits on a suet feeder with a tail prop.

Hopper with Suet Feeder

If space is limited for hosting multiple bird feeders, a hopper feeder with suet cages is a great way to offer two plus food types at once. The suet cages sit on the ends while the hopper holds seeds for other birds!

hopper feeder with suet cakes

Upside Down Suet Feeder

Have grackles, starlings, House Sparrows, other large birds, or squirrels bothering suet feeders? The upside-down suet feeder can help to deter unwanted visitors that may prevent everyone’s favorite nuthatches and woodpeckers from partaking in a fat offering. These clinging birds can still easily feed but will face less stiff competition at the feeder.

Suet Log

Want a more natural appearing suet feeder? Try a cedar or recycled plastic suet log! Woodpeckers and nuthatches will easily cling to this style of feeder, but other bully birds will struggle to perch.

Spreadable Suet Feeder

This unique feeder also limits certain species from accessing the fats inside. It fits perfectly for woodpeckers and nuthatches, though!

Suet Nuggets

Want to use a suet type for existing feeders? Suet nuggets can be used with peanut feeders or mix suet nuggets with other seed feeders that have openings large enough for the nuggets to be taken. Hoppers and platforms are great for suet nuggets!

What birds are attracted to suet?

There are few birds who will not take advantage of a properly offered suet cake. In fact, during bad weather events, suet cakes will attract multiple bird species that are not associated with bird feeders. Species such as warblers, grosbeaks, orioles, tanagers, bluebirds, jays, and others will visit suet on such occasions. The rest of a suet cake’s time will be spent being consumed by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and wrens. Some birds not listed may also visit, as suet truly can attract the largest variety of birds to a bird-filled backyard!

A Steller's Jay visits a suet feeder.
A Steller's Jay enjoys a Color Pop suet feeder by Birds Choice!

Give the gift of fat!

To help support your local bird populations, check out the suet options linked throughout this article, and make sure to learn how to create the best bird buffet!