Bird feed is all well and good, but sometimes you want to give the backyard birds a different treat or attract a type of bird to your feeder.
Particularly good for birds in the fall and winter, suet is a high-calorie source of food that's easy to make yourself, and your birds will appreciate the additional energy it provides.
Using suet to feed birds
Suet is basically just raw fat in beef or lamb found around the loin or kidneys. It's a common ingredient in a number of British dishes, particularly puddings. (And don't worry, we provide a recipe option that doesn't use this ingredient.)
Suet is also super-safe for birds. In fact, most forms of animal fats are easily digested by birds. As a result, you could just toss a block of suet, commonly sold as suet cakes, into a caged feeder and call it a day.
Why just do the bare minimum, though? Since it's a fat and can be melted, suet can incorporate a range of other ingredients birds love, including peanuts, dried fruits and, if you really want to treat them, dried insects.
A variety of ingredients can attract different birds, too, so that's all the more reason to make your own suet cakes. Birds that are attracted to suet include chickadees, tits, wrens, woodpeckers, large passerines and jays. The species that visit will depend on the type of suet you use, the type of feeder and what other food is readily available.
DIY suet recipes
If you're ready to take the plunge and make your own suet, here are three recipes to get you started.
1. Basic suet recipe. This suet recipe from The Spruce is a good starter recipe. It also walks you through the suet rendering process, which will help the suet maintain whatever shape you mold it into.
All the recipe uses is the suet, some chunky peanut butter, cornmeal and white or wheat flour. The cornmeal and the flour make the suet a little more "crumbly," which is easier for the birds to eat and cuts down on yard mess, too.
2. Fancy suet recipe. If you're ready to start jazzing up your suet while also getting a bit creative with how you present it to the birds, Inhabit's suet recipe is just the ticket. It has plenty of dried fruits, peanuts and other bird-friendly treats. The recipe also explains how to put the suet into DIY feeders, either re-purposed plastic containers or slathered onto pine cones. Perhaps most unusual, however, is their recommendation to pack your suet in hollowed-out coconut shells and hang the shells from trees. Be warned, however: Both of those options will make it easy for other tree-dwellers, like squirrels, to enjoy the suet, too.
3. Vegetarian suet recipe. While birds aren't vegetarian, you may object to working with a meat-derived product like suet. The National Audubon Society has a vegetarian suet recipe that you can try instead. It uses shortening and nut butter to create the suet substitute. The video above provides the instructions and ingredients.
You can make homemade suet any time of year, but the best time to set out these bricks is the fall and winter, when birds are more reliant on this calorie-heavy food option. Homemade suet made with animal fat and no preservatives can turn rancid in hot weather. It can also melt, which not only creates a mess but can also coat a bird's wings. (Store-bought suet cakes are often treated with preservatives that will prevent it from melting if you want to offer these blocks year-round.)