It’s a great idea to offer several different types of food to birds in winter, and suet is one of the easiest and best available.
Some birds who never visit seed feeders will be delighted to have suet feeders available through the cold winter months when the high-fat, high-calorie treat will help them when other food sources are scarce.
1. DO Know Which Birds Suet Will Attract
Woodpeckers quickly come to mind when thinking of birds who favor suet over seeds, but they certainly aren’t the only ones you will find pecking away at your suet feeder.
Chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and finches will also become regular visitors through the winter months, and when migratory birds start to return in spring, orioles and bluebirds will find them irresistible as they replenish themselves after their long flight north.
2. DO Buy Suet In Bulk
You may be surprised at how quickly a suet cake can disappear once birds know where to find them. It’s best to buy multiple cakes at once so you never run out.
Imagine how disappointed your birds will be if you can’t get out to the stores in the middle of a blizzard; that’s when they need the high-quality calories the most.
3. DO Store Suet Properly
Of course, once you have all that suet back home, you will need to find a good place to store it. Just because the stores have it out on the shelves, that doesn’t mean that room temperature is the best for long-term storage.
If you can keep the suet in a sealed container in an unheated garage or shed, that’s a great option for keeping it fresh in winter. If you have a cold cellar, consider that as well.
Realize that if you don’t have them in a nibble-proof container, you may find your suet cakes are feeding mice and other undesirables.
If you have nowhere else to stow it away, pop it into a refrigerator or freezer until you need it.
Unless you have it in a freezer, storing extra suet cakes over the summer is not a good idea. They will go rancid, so use up the last of your supply before things get too hot outside.
4. DO Keep Birds Healthy With Quality Ingredients In Suet Cakes
There are varying degrees of quality in suet cakes, and cheaper ones may contain ingredients that are not the healthiest choice for wild birds.
Added sugar, for instance, is not a very nutritious source of calories. Read the ingredient label before you buy suet cakes.
Suet cakes should be primarily beef fat, seeds, dried fruits, and possibly peanut butter. Small quantities of grains like corn and oats are also okay.
Avoid brands with palm oil, which is destroying wildlife habitats in the parts of the world where it is produced.
5. DO Consider Making Your Own Suet Cakes
You can also make your own suet cakes if you can get your hands on the raw ingredients.
You can buy unprocessed suet from butchers or online, although you might need to shop around to find it at a price that makes it worthwhile.
Melt the suet down, and add peanut butter, oats, hulled seeds, and dried fruit. Pour it into molds and let it solidify in the refrigerator or freezer.
6. DON’T Let Bully Birds Take Over
Bully birds like starlings and grackles can be just as much of a problem at a suet feeder as they are at a seed feeder.
There are special suet feeders that you can buy with the suet cage mounted horizontally under a solid roof. While birds like woodpeckers and juncos won’t mind dining this way, starlings will stay away.
7. DO Make Them Squirrel-Proof With Baffles
It’s not just birds that will enjoy a feast of suet, however. Squirrels, chipmunks, and even the occasional opossum will take every bit that they can get if you let them.
You can install baffles above and below the suet feeder to make it impossible for these determined creatures to get to the actual food.
8. DO Make Suet Cakes Squirrel-Proof With Hot Pepper
If you don’t want to install any extra equipment, you can resort to another method for deterring squirrels and other mammals.
Birds are impervious to hot substances like hot pepper, because they don’t have the pain receptors that triggers a painful reaction in mammals.
So if you add hot chili powder or sauce to suet cakes, those furry creatures will leave them alone, while your feathered friends won’t even notice.
It’s a little more work, but not much, to accomplish this. If you’re making your own suet cakes, just add them when you’re mixing things up.
If you buy cakes ready-made, simply pop them out of their packaging, put them in a large bowl, and microwave up to 6 at a time.
When the suet has melted, add a few spoonfuls of hot pepper, and mix well. Then pour the melted mixture back into the plastic trays they came in, and put them in a cold place to solidify. Store them as usual.
9. DON’T Stop At One Suet Feeder
One suet feeder isn’t enough for the average property, as you will soon discover when you set up several of them.
Your local bird population will soon find them all, and you will have the fun of watching a variety of species enjoying your generosity all winter long.
10. DON’T Stop Feeding All Winter
Once you’ve gotten birds into the habit of coming to your place for meals, it’s cruel to suddenly deprive them of what they’ve come to depend on for winter survival.
If you go away for any longer than a few days, ask a friend or neighbor to refill suet (and seed) feeders while you’re gone.
11. DO Put Suet Out Early In The Fall, And Leave It Out Until Mid-Spring
Suet is such an excellent source of concentrated energy that is quite helpful for migratory birds both when they’re arriving and when they’re leaving.
Have suet cakes available for them in early to mid-spring, and then again in early fall. That way, they can bulk up before they start the long flight south, or quickly replenish themselves as they fly north in spring.
Orioles, for instance, will sometimes prefer a suet feeder to a nectar feeder when they first arrive!
You will find yourself feeding not just the birds that stick around in your area for their breeding season, but also those making a quick stop on their long journey.
12. DON’T Use Suet In Summer
The one time of the year that you should not feed birds suet is in hot summer weather. Suet will melt at those temperatures, and that can be quite dangerous if it coats the feathers of birds.
Parents may even end up inadvertently covering their eggs with suet, which will stop any air from passing through the fine pores of the eggshell and asphyxiate the embryos.
It will also make a gooey mess on walls, decks, and walkways.
Luckily, birds have so much to eat in summer, including insects and fresh fruit, there’s no necessity to provide this supplementary source of calories.
Save the suet cakes for winter when winter birds really need them!