Homemade Suet for Birds
Technically, suet is the hard fat around the kidney and loins in cattle. Tallow is derived from this fat.
When feeding birds, the term includes mixtures of animal fat along with seeds, grains, nuts, and fruit. The fat usually comes from cattle, sheep, or hogs. Suet cakes are readily available commerically. The cakes are usually placed in cages which are placed in bird feeding areas. Birds cling to the cages to eat the suet.
The fat in suet supplies wild birds' energy needs. Birds get much of their energy from eating insects. Fat from animals is a good alternative to insects.
It is a favorite food of all of our woodpeckers as well as chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. Unfortunately starlings are also attracted to it.
Many commercially available suet cakes have lots of grain fillers that some birds don't even eat. Instead of purchasing suet cakes, I prefer to make my own. When I've put out homemade suet next to commercially made suet, the birds always eat the homemade suet first. An added benefit of making your own suet is that you control the ingredients.
Homemade Suet Recipe
Do NOT substitute hydrogenated vegetable oils for the animal fat. Our local butcher, Herman's Meat & Deli, gives away beef fat. It can be rendered and used in the suet. I used to use lard from the store until I learned that it is hydrogenated. Hydrogenated oils are unhealthy transfats, so I avoid them.
- 2 cups (16 ounces) melted pork fat (lard) or beef fat (tallow)
- 2 cups (16 ounces) natural crunchy peanut butter
- 4 cups quick oats
- 4 cups yellow cornmeal
- 2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup of sugar (optional)
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt fat and peanut butter together on low heat. Take off heat, and slowly add dry ingredients. Spread on a cookie sheet, and allow to cool in the refrigerator or outdoors until the mixture is just hard enough to cut into pieces. Alternatively the mixture can be molded in used plastic suet containers that pre-packaged suet comes in.
Store suet in a freezer or fridge and use as needed.
It really isn't that difficult to render your own fat to make your own suet. Start with either beef fat or pork fat. Cut the fat into half inch cubes or shred it in a food processor. This will make the rendering process much quicker than using large chunks of fat.
Place cubes or shredded fat into a stock pot. Place the pot on LOW heat. Do not try to speed up the process by turning up the heat. If you do you will have burn the fat.
Stir the pot occassionally and cook for about an hour or two until the fat melts and becomes clear liquid.
Once the fat is melted you will be left with cracklings floating in fat. Remove the cracklings and place the fat in containers. I use glass pint jars. Store the containers in the fridge or the freezer.
In the winter I put the cracklings out for the birds. Bluejays and crows love them.
Once you discover how easy it is to render fat you may start using it yourself for cooking. Animal fats have a lot of health benefits for us as well as the birds.
Suet Placement for Feeding Birds
Suet cakes placed in wire cages are the most popular method for serving the suet to wild birds. These can be hung from a shepherd's hook or place on the trunk of a tree. Woodpeckers especially like feeding from the trunk of a tree.
My favorite method for serving suet is using a log with holes drilled in it. To create a log feeder, take about a 2' long log that is about 4" in diameter. Use a 1.5" hole saw to drill holes about an inch deep into the log. Use a wood chisel to removel the wood from the hole. Put an eye screw in the top of the log and hang from an S hook.
The holes are filled with the suet mixture and the log is hung from a tree limb. I built my own feeder by taking a 4" diameter log and cutting it to about 2 feet in length. Next I drilled 1" holes in it on four sides. An eye screw is attached to the top to allow it to be hung from an S hook. I stuff the holes with home made suet and hang the log on an S hook in a tree. I see flicker, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckerss clinging to the log as they eat suet. Chickadees and titmice will eat from it too.
Since I started feeding suet in a suet log, I like to keep the suet in the fridge. This keeps the suet from becoming too hard. I fill the log daily by pressing bits of suet into the holes in the log. The log is so popular that i have to refill the holes on a daily basis.
Suet as Starling Bait
Suet is an excellent bait that can be used for trapping starlings, a non-native invasive species. Starlings compete with our native birds for nesting sites as well as food. If you feed suet, you've probably had hoards of starlings consuming all of your suet.
I use their appetite for suet to catch them in various traps. Learn more about using suet with Starling Control Traps.