WORDS ON BIRDS
Add Suet to Your Backyard Feeder Menu
By Steve Grinley
Last week, I reviewed the various types of bird seed for your
feeders and talked about bird preferences for those seeds. As the
weather finally cools off this weekend, I should keep the bird food
theme going and repeat my reminders of providing suet for the birds:
As the weather turns colder, birds
become more active around the bird feeders. Not only do they go for
the bird seed, but the suet begins 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, safflower, corn 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.
Raw suet can be purchased from a local butcher or market. When I was
young, our butcher use to give it to me free because he had to pay
to have it hauled away. Now that it has become a more popular bird
feeding commodity, they charge us for this "waste." Raw suet,
however, can melt in warmer weather, turn rancid rather quickly, or
it can freeze during colder weather. So most suet that is put in
bird feeders is rendered.
render raw suet yourself by chopping it up and melting it down. By
heating and straining out the solid fats, you can refrigerate the
liquid to provide a harden suet for the birds. I use to render my
suet and mix in corn meal, peanut butter and seed, but my parents
complained when I "stunk up" the kitchen with my concoction.
An easier alternative is to purchase low cost suet that is already
rendered and cut into convenient sizes that fit most suet feeders.
Commercial suet is mixed with all kinds of yummy treats for the
birds including peanuts, seeds, insects, and fruit. Suet that
contain nuts and seed are more attractive to seed eaters whereas the
orange and berry flavored suet is more attractive to fruit eaters.
Suet is attractive to all of the
woodpeckers, including flickers and even the large, pileated
woodpeckers! Suet is also popular with nuthatches, chickadees and
titmice. Carolina wrens and brown creepers will also visit suet
feeders. Orioles, catbirds, mockingbirds and tanagers enjoy the
fruit flavored suet.
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." 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 is even very
large version of a tail-prop suet feeder for the pileated
Also popular is the 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, without perches that might
make it easier for starlings or squirrels to reach the suet.
Other effective suet feeder designs include an "upside-down" feeder
that exposes the suet only underneath the feeder. The clinging birds
donít mind hanging upside down to feed. This design helps discourage
starlings, grackles and squirrels. Another feeder style that has a
cage around it further discourages squirrels and larger birds, but
generally only allow the smaller birds to access the suet. If
squirrels become a real problem, you can try offering "pure" suet,
rendered beef suet without all the "fixinís", like seeds and nuts
that the squirrels are really after. There are also commercial suet
cakes and suet plugs with hot pepper mixed in that further
discourages the squirrels and other mammals.
Providing suet for birds during the colder weather helps them to
survive, while providing us with great entertainment. It also gives
new meaning to the term "watching your fat!"
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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