Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Offering Suet to Birds for Winter
December 08, 2023
By Steve Grinley
As I mentioned last week, the cold weather is bringing more birds back to the feeders. We even had an inch of snow on Cape Ann this week which brought even more birds to our feeders. This cold weather warrants repeating a reminder of the importance of adding suet to your offerings for the birds.
With colder weather upon us, now is a good time to add suet to your birds’ diet if you haven’t already done so. Suet is appreciated by birds year around, but it is especially important as a source of fat and protein during the colder months. A simple mesh bag (like an onion bag) will hold beef suet that you can buy from a butcher or the meat department of a grocery store. (They used to give it away!) You can hang the mesh bags anywhere near your seed feeders so you can watch the birds that it attracts.
Just a note of caution about suet if you have dogs. You have to keep suet out of the reach of dogs! It is not good for them, and I have lost many a suet bag (that was hung too low) to our canine friends in the past.
Raw beef suet does get rancid in short time but you can render it to make it last longer. You can melt it down and add peanut butter, bird seed, corn meal, raisins or nuts. There are recipe books for such mixtures, but it is fun to experiment and try new things. I used to make up my own mixture when I was young, but my mother didn’t appreciate the odor that it left in the kitchen!
Mixing your own suet is a bit of work. A simpler way is to buy commercial suet cakes or bells. These can be placed in mesh bags or in longer lasting suet cages. The vinyl-coated metal cages provide protection against squirrels that might chew right through a mesh bag. These cage feeders can hold one or two suet cakes.
Some cages have wood or poly extensions on the bottom called “tail-props” that woodpeckers can use to prop their tail as they do on trees. These can be hung and some are built into the side of hopper seed feeders. There are also single cage feeders that can be mounted directly onto the window with suction cups for close-up views.
We use suet logs, a piece of wood or poly with holes drilled into it that accepts suet “plugs.” Suet plugs are typically one inch diameter that can be easily pressed into the holes of the log. These perch-less logs tend to deter starlings and other blackbirds when they come around. All our woodpeckers, nuthatches and other clinging birds seem to love them.
Squirrels go after suet but they are usually after the seed or nuts mixed in with the suet. They don’t usually bother with pure suet, and the hot pepper suet cakes also help to deter squirrels while birds don’t mind the pepper. If squirrels or starlings are still a problem, there are “upside-down” suet feeders which permit woodpeckers, chickadees and other light birds to cling underneath and feed, while giving squirrels a harder time and starlings are too heavy to hang upside-down to feed.
If squirrels are STILL a problem, the most recent Squirrel Buster Suet Feeder is the way to go. Like all the other Squirrel Buster products, it effectively closes off the food (in this case, 2 suet cakes) when the weight of the squirrel gets on it. It has an adjustable weight setting and is easy to use and to clean as necessary.
Suet is a great way to attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, brown creepers and, sometimes, a wintering pine or orange-crowned warbler. Crushed up suet on a tray, or commercially available suet “Nuggets,” are attractive to bluebirds. Catbirds and orioles will also feed on suet, but they don’t usually over-winter here. However, just this week, our Barrett had a colorful Baltimore oriole visiting a heated bird bath that he has attached to his deck railing in Rowley!