Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Clean Feeders and Suet Will Encourage Birds
November 11, 2017
By Steve Grinley

Last week I talked about the rain and wind storm that hit our area and how our birds survived it all. One thing I didn’t mention was that after the storm, I saw the need to clean out all the feeders again. The wind-driven rain soaked all of the ports in the tube feeders and the open trays were clogged with the smaller seeds. 

     Most of my feeders at home have tiny holes in the bottom that helps drain water out of the feeders and also helps air to circulate inside the feeders. As I was cleaning, I had to use a pin to help clear those holes before filling the feeders again. It was slow work, but will help keep the new seed fresher longer. 

     Other folks have also seen the need for cleaning their feeders as several customers have come in seeking assistance with the task of reassembling cleaned feeder components. The storm seemed to have sparked additional activity at most bird feeders, so if activity has slowed at your feeders, it may be an indication of the need to clean them. As the weather has also turned colder these last few days, the numbers of birds have increased and their feeder visits have become more frequent. They are going through the seed much faster now, and they are spending much more time at the suet. 

     With colder weather finally approaching, and though I have mentioned it before this season, 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 round, but it is especially important as a source of fat and protein during the colder months. Suet is a good way to attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and brown creepers. Lots of birds enjoy suet including Carolina wrens, catbirds, orioles and thrushes, especially bluebirds. A few warblers will also feed on suet, but they don’t usually winter here.

     A simple mesh bag will hold beef suet that you can buy from a butcher or the meat department of a grocery store. Raw beef suet does get rancid in short time but you can render it to have it last longer. Melt it down and add peanut butter, bird seed, raisins or nuts. It is fun to experiment and try new things. 

     A simpler way is to buy commercial suet cakes. These can be placed in mesh bags or suet cages. The vinyl-coated metal cages provide protection against squirrels that would chew right through a mesh bag. There are also suet feeders with extensions on the bottom, referred to as “tail props” because it helps the woodpeckers, especially the larger ones, to prop their stiff tail when feeding (as they do on trees.) Our hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers appreciate the tail prop on our suet feeder, but even the small downy woodpeckers use it when they are pecking at the lower part of the suet cake.

     The other popular suet feeder at our house is the log feeder. It is made of real wood with holes drilled in it. Suet “plugs” are available commercially that can be used to plug the holes. The log is very natural for the woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the chickadees and titmice also use it. They all can cling to the log without the need for perches which only encourage starlings and squirrels.

     Unfortunately starlings also like suet and can often dominate a suet feeder. If they are a problem, there are “upside-down” suet feeders that permit woodpeckers, chickadees and other light birds to cling underneath and feed, while starlings are too heavy to hang upside-down to feed. These feeders may also deter squirrels.

     There is another suet feeder that is surrounded by a cage that allows smaller birds, including downy woodpeckers, to feed but keeps gray squirrels and large birds out. If squirrels persist, they are usually after the seed or nuts mixed in with the commercial suet and they don’t usually bother with pure suet. Raw suet or pure suet cakes is usually ignored by squirrels. Suet cakes with hot pepper also help to discourage the squirrels, but the birds don’t have the sensory glands for pepper and they don’t mind it. 

     Birds really enjoy suet made with peanuts or peanut butter and we do serve those suet cakes in feeders that are protected by a baffle on a pole. The squirrels can’t climb past the baffle or jump to the feeders from a nearby tree. It is satisfying to watch so many birds enjoy the suet while the squirrels are on the ground looking up in dismay!

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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