Delve into the world of suet, the gourmet delight for our feathered friends. In this guide, we’ll explore the nuances of feeding suet to birds, offering detailed insights, expert advice, and alternative options to entice various garden birds.
What is Suet?
Suet represents a popular choice for wild bird nourishment, aiming to provide additional nutrition to avian species. Derived from refined beef fat, it undergoes a meticulous melting process and skimming to eliminate impurities. Once purified, the fat can be combined with birdseed, nut or fruit fragments, or even dried insects, enhancing its nutritional value and appealing to a wider variety of bird species. Shaped into cakes, balls, and creative forms, suet serves as an enticing bird food source. Some softer suet varieties resemble a butter-like spread, while others, cut into chunks, nuggets, or shreds, cater to smaller bird preferences.
Although fat balls are commonly enjoyed as a winter indulgence, their benefits extend throughout the year. Birds, especially during pre-migration and breeding periods, require an energy boost and fat balls offer an optimal solution. The high energy content of suet is particularly favoured by many garden birds, making it a versatile and appreciated addition to their diet.
Which Birds Eat Suet?
Various birds relish fat balls, whether placed on tables, in feeders or broken into pieces and scattered on the ground. Suet can also be obtained in mesh bags. As a favoured addition to a bird’s natural diet, particularly in colder months, it attracts various wild birds. Among them are:
Advantages of Suet for Birds
Suet presents numerous advantages for wild birds, making it an optimal food choice for various garden feeding stations. Birds consuming suet can enjoy:
- Nutrient-Rich Diet: These boast high levels of fat, protein, and additional nutrients and minerals, depending on the specific blend. This provides excellent nutrition for both adult and young birds.
- Rapid Energy Boost: Suet balls, brimming with calories from fat, serve as a swift energy source for active birds. The refined fat in it is easily digestible, enabling birds to convert it swiftly into usable energy.
- Calorie Concentration: Since suet is predominantly fat, its energy is concentrated. This allows birds to derive more energy while consuming less, affording them additional time for activities such as preening instead of spending excessive time foraging for less efficient food.
- Protein Replacement: In times of insect scarcity, suet is a valuable source of supplemental protein for insect-eating birds facing difficulty finding food. This becomes especially crucial for many resident birds during the autumn and winter.
Gardeners’ Benefits of Offering Suet to Birds
The advantages of offering suet extend beyond benefiting birds; they also prove advantageous for gardeners. These benefits include:
- Diverse Bird Population: Suet attracts many birds, such as chickadees, wrens, bluebirds, robins, cardinals, thrashers, woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, and more. Gardeners can attract diverse bird species to their feeding stations by providing suet.
- Versatility in Presentation: Suet is available in various forms, including cakes, balls, nuggets, spreads, and whimsical shapes, adding an element of enjoyment to the feeding station. This versatility allows gardeners to offer suet in different bird feeders without requiring a specialised suet feeder.
- Full Utilisation: Suet is a consumable food with no waste. Birds consume every bit of the offering without leaving hulls, reducing the cleanup of spilled seeds that could potentially grow into unwanted weeds. This ensures a cleaner feeding area and maximises the utilisation of all provided food.
- Year-Round Feeding: Due to its broad appeal to many bird species, suet can be offered at bird feeders throughout the year. While some suet blends may soften or melt in the hottest months, there are no-melt varieties designed for summer feeding.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Suet is affordable, whether purchased commercially as prepared cakes or crafted at home in personalised blends. This affordability makes suet an ideal choice for bird feeding on a budget without compromising nutrition or the variety of bird species attracted.
When to Give Suet to Birds
Offering suet to garden birds becomes crucial when food becomes scarce during winter or colder seasons. Suet serves as an excellent source of energy during these times. However, an increasing number of people now choose to provide bird food throughout the year, and there is no adverse effect in offering suet continuously. In warmer weather, be mindful of it melting and aim to hang it in a shaded location during summer. For more information on wild bird care in winter, read this article.
Where is the Optimal Position for Suet Feeders?
Consider several factors when determining the ideal spot for hanging your suet feeding station. Refer to our checklist to ensure you cover all bases:
- Shield the bird feeder from severe weather conditions, ensuring it is shaded from excessive sunlight and protected from strong winds.
- Position it near trees or hang it from a tree if possible, providing birds with a secure place to escape if they detect a cat or are startled by sudden noises.
- Place away from fences or dense foliage where cats could lurk and ambush.
- Ensure it offers a clear view in all directions, allowing birds to detect predators and sense potential dangers while feeding.
- Opt for a tranquil location; if possible, hang the feeder in the back garden, away from the noise of passing cars.
Suet Hanging Location Ideas
While the typical image of hanging a suet cage in a tree is a common choice, it’s not the only option to attract birds to your garden. Consider these alternative locations for a successful suet feeder setup:
- Feeding Station: Set up a practical feeding station with a clear view of birds. Hang fat balls and scatter seeds or mealworms in trays. The feeding station, easily placed in the soil or on a patio, can also include a spot for water. Weighted bases are available for patio or decking placement.
- Wall Bracket: Install a secure bracket on a brick wall to protect it from cats. Ensure it’s high enough to deter cats but low enough for easy cleaning. Ideally, position it near a window for convenient bird watching from a distance.
- Garden Structures (Pergola, Arbour, Pavilion): Utilise garden structures like arbours, pavilions, pergolas, or wooden gazebos to install multiple bird and coconut feeders. Growing crawling plants on the structure not only offers protection and coverage for birds but also attracts insects. This creates a more comfortable environment for feathered visitors.
- Hanging Flower Basket: Opt for hanging flower baskets as convenient spots for suet cakes and seed feeders. Any spilled seeds will land in the basket, and the surrounding plants and flowers provide cover from potential predators.
- Unused Washing Line: Repurpose an old, unused washing line or rope by hanging it across tree branches or between fences. This makeshift setup provides an excellent location for hanging suet cakes.
- Under Shed or Summer House Eave: If your garden shed has sufficient roof overhang, hang a suet ball underneath. Alternatively, use a wall bracket if space under the roof is limited. This option works well if the shed is not used daily. Another viable location is under the eaves of a summer house roof.
How to Hang Suet for Birds?
When it comes to hanging suet balls for birds, you have a variety of options to choose from. These versatile suet fat balls can be suspended in a cage, or you can opt for a specialised suet feeder capable of simultaneously accommodating multiple suet balls or cakes.
For optimal placement, hang suet in a visible area, approximately 12 feet away from trees or shrubs. It’s advisable to position them in the shade to prevent rapid melting and stickiness. When hanging suet balls for birds, ensure they are at least 30 feet away from glass windows to minimise the risk of collisions. Additionally, consider the presence of other animals in the vicinity when deciding where to situate your suet feeders in the garden.
Some of the most effective locations feature wide-open gaps designed for birds to feed while hanging on a branch. Bird feeder pole brackets are a popular choice, and cage-style suet feeders with the capacity for multiple suet balls are also widely used.
Consider placing suet near peanut or seed feeders to attract more birds or arrange multiple suet cakes side-by-side. Some suet feeders have larger enclosures to deter bigger birds and are often designed to be squirrel-proof.
To maximise bird activity in your garden, set up suet bird feeders in the fall to attract migratory birds and maintain the appeal throughout winter.
Homemade Suet Balls/Cakes for Birds
Making your own suet is a simple and great way to help birds get the nutrients needed when natural food is scarce.
Time needed: 30 minutes
250g lard (vegetable suet can also be used)
250g peanut butter (unsalted)
500g mixed birdseed (a blend of sunflower seeds, millet, oats, and other small seeds)
250g wholemeal flour
Optional: 100g raisins or chopped dried fruit
Spoon or spatula
String or twine
Muffin tins or plastic moulds
- Prepare the Molds
Line each cup with a small square of parchment paper if you use muffin tins. If you use plastic moulds, ensure they are clean and ready to use.
- Melt the Fats
In a large pan, melt the lard over low heat. If using vegetable suet, melt it in the same way. Once melted, add the peanut butter to the pan and stir until well combined, then remove from heat.
- Mix Dry Ingredients
Combine the birdseed, wholemeal flour, and optionally raisins or dried fruit in a separate mixing bowl.
- Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients
Pour the melted lard and peanut butter mixture over the dry ingredients. Stir thoroughly until all the dry ingredients are well coated in the fat mixture.
- Form the Suet Balls/Cakes
Spoon the mixture into the prepared moulds or shape small balls with your hands. Press the mixture down firmly to ensure it holds together.
- Creat Hanging Points
If you want to hang the suet balls, insert a length of string or twine into each ball before it solidifies. Ensure the string is long enough for hanging.
- Chill and Set
Place the filled moulds or shaped balls in the refrigerator or a cool place to allow them to set and harden. This usually takes a few hours.
- Remove and Store
Once the suet balls/cakes are firm, carefully remove them from the moulds. Store them in a cool place or the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
- Hang or Place for Birds
Hang the suet balls from tree branches or place them in bird feeders. Enjoy watching the birds flock to enjoy their tasty treat!
The Do’s and Don’ts of Suet Bird Feeding
Do: Familiarise yourself with suet-loving bird species.
When engaging in bird feeding, knowing which birds you’re likely to attract is beneficial. This enhances the overall experience and creates anticipation. Suet is an appealing food for various species, such as woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, and more.
Don’t: Lose hope if your favorite birds don’t appear immediately.
Patience is key, as birds may need some time to discover a new food source. Rest assured, they will eventually start frequenting your feeding area.
Do: Experiment with homemade suet.
Explore the many suet recipes available online, or get creative and formulate your variations. Test different recipes to identify what appeals most to your feathered visitors.
Don’t: Include excessive sugary ingredients.
Be cautious of suet recipes laden with sugary components and low-nutrient ingredients. Opt for recipes featuring quality fats like peanut butter or nut butter, which are crucial for birds, especially during colder months.
Do: Invest in a high-quality suet bird feeder.
While a basic suet feeder is a good initial trial, consider upgrading to a durable, squirrel-proof metal feeder. This investment significantly contributes to keeping unwanted critters at bay and ensures a lasting and effective feeding solution for your garden birds.