Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Offer Suet to the Birds in Winter
December 03, 2021
This cold weather warrants repeating a reminder of the importance of adding suet to your offerings for the birds, and some comments regarding the placement of feeders so they can be viewed from the warmth of your home:
With colder weather approaching, 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. 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!) Raw beef suet does get rancid in short time but you can render it to make it last longer. Melt it down and add peanut butter, bird seed, 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 it left in the kitchen.
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. Squirrels are usually after the seed or nuts mixed in with the suet and don’t usually bother with pure suet. The same is not true for the neighborhood dogs! You have to keep suet out of their reach. I’ve lost many a suet bag to our canine “friends.”
Suet is a good way to attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and brown creepers. Catbirds, orioles and thrushes will also feed on suet, but they don’t usually winter here. 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 to heavy to hang upside-down to feed. These feeders will also deter squirrels.
Another suet feeder is surrounded by a cage that allows smaller birds, including downy woodpeckers, to feed but it keeps gray squirrels and large birds out. A suet log, a piece of wood with holes drilled in it that accepts suet “plugs,” will also deter starlings and large birds but will it will be enjoyed by woodpeckers, nuthatches and other clinging birds.
Relatively new on the market is the Squirrel Buster Suet. It hold 2 suet cakes and closes off access if a squirrel gets on it. Like all the other Squirrel Buster models, it does work!
Regardless of the type or number of feeders you put up, where you put them is key. The most important thing to remember is to place the feeder where you can see it and enjoy it. Feeders can be placed near the house for viewing from your favorite window. Access to the feeder during snow cover is also important, and it won’t be long before that may be an issue. Birds like to have cover nearby, a tree or bush where they can lite and check out the area before feeding to make sure no predators are around, or to use as an escape route if danger appears. Avoid putting low feeders near brush where a cat may hide.
Poles can be placed in front of a window to mount or hang feeders. There are also brackets which can mount on the side of a window that swing in front of the window with a hanging feeder for easy viewing. There are also brackets that screw or clamp onto deck railings to suspend feeders out away from the deck.
Some feeders are made to mount on the window sill or right on the window glass itself with suction cups. The better quality suction cup models work well – we have had them on our windows at the store with great success in the past. There are even window feeders with two-way mirror film where the birds see their reflection while you watch them from close-up inside the house. These are great for children and the elderly and I have many customers who have bought these for their cats!
Keep in mind that squirrels may still reach window feeders. They can climb the siding of your house or jump from the eaves of the roof. I had one customer who actually surrounded her window feeder with double-sided tape with tacks sticking through. This didn’t seem to slow the critters down at all! But then, not much does.