Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Suet Helps Birds Survive Colder Weather
October 12, 2019
Steve Grinley

     Several customers have told me that they have fewer birds at their feeders in recent weeks. We expect this each fall as more natural seed becomes available. However we still have up to thirty goldfinches at our feeders as well as our usual woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice and cardinals. Some of these birds are visiting less frequently, but as the weather turns colder, birds will become more active again around the bird feeders. Not only will birds go through the bird seed, but the suet starts disappearing faster as well. Ever wonder why this is?

     Birds have a high metabolic rate and must eat constantly during the day to have enough reserves to carry them through the colder nights. The colder the nights, the more reserves they need. They must also be able to convert that food quickly to heat and energy to survive. Foods with higher oil and fat content become most important.

     Black oil sunflower, peanuts and suet are some of the highest oil content foods that you can serve birds during the colder months. Suet, by far, provides more energy per bite than all the others. Suet is fat from cattle and sheep.

     Of course there is nothing like suet in the natural world for birds, so why are birds attracted to it? It is speculated that suet is an excellent substitute for insects, which are a rich source of fat and protein for birds during warmer months. Birds probably use suet to supplement insects during the warmer months and as a substitute during colder months when insects are not available.

     Suet can be purchased from a local butcher or market. You can put out raw suet for the birds and they will enjoy it. Raw suet, however, can melt in warmer weather or turn rancid rather quickly. Raw suet can also freeze during colder weather. So most suet that is put in bird feeders is rendered.

     You can render raw suet yourself by chopping it up and melting it down. An easier alternative is to purchase suet that is already rendered and cut into convenient sized cakes that fit most suet feeders. Commercial suet is mixed with all kinds of treats for the birds including peanuts, seeds, insects, and fruit. Most suet attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice. Carolina wrens and brown creepers will also visit suet feeders. In season, orioles, catbirds, and tanagers enjoy suet as well.

     Suet feeders come in all sizes and shapes. There are simple cages, but the woodpeckers prefer longer cages or those that have an extension on the bottom called a “tail prop.” Because woodpeckers use their stiff tail to brace themselves as they cling to trees, placing a suet feeder on a tree trunk, or providing a suet feeder with an extension for their tail helps them to brace themselves while eating

     There are also log suet feeders that are, basically, wood logs with holes drilled in them. Suet “plugs” are put in the holes and woodpeckers and other clinging birds will cling to the log and feed. The absence of perches might discourage starlings or squirrels.

     Another effective suet feeder design is an “upside-down” feeder that exposes the suet only underneath the feeder. The clinging birds don’t mind hanging upside down to feed. This design helps discourage starlings, grackles and squirrels. Another suet feeder that has a cage around it further discourages squirrels and larger birds.

     When squirrels become a real problem, customers often try “pure” suet, (rendered beef suet without all the treats mixed in), or “hot pepper” suet which can discourage some squirrels.

     However now, at last, there is the sure fire way to stop squirrels from eating all your suet. The new Squirrel Buster Suet Feeder is now available!

     Squirrel Busters have become the favorite squirrel-proof seed feeders available and most customers swear by them. So a Squirrel Buster solution for suet has been long awaited. Like the entire line of Squirrel Buster seed feeders that close off the seed supply with the weight of a squirrel, the Squirrel Buster Suet Feeder works on the same principle. This suet feeder holds two suet cakes with a weight sensitive cage around them. Once a squirrel gets on it, its weight will lower the cage such that the suet cakes become inaccessible to the squirrel. As with the rest of the Squirrel Buster Feeders, the squirrels soon learn that they can’t get to the food source and eventually give up. That leaves just the birds to enjoy your suet offering! To see more, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Is2qll0_J4g

     Providing suet for birds will help them survive the colder fall and winter weather ahead, while providing us with the pleasure of their company.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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