How to Offer Suet to Backyard Birds

Suet Feeder and Feeding Tips

Downy Woodpecker on a Suet Feeder
A cage-style feeder excludes larger birds so smaller birds can eat safely. Photo © River Wanderer/Flickr/Used With Permission

Suet is an excellent source of high calorie energy for backyard birds, but it can also be messy and difficult to offer it is not used in appropriate feeders. By understanding how to feed suet and the best suet feeders to use, backyard birders can give their flocks this nutritious treat easily and conveniently.

Types of Suet

Suet comes in a range of blends and is molded into many different shapes and sizes.

Cakes, balls and plugs are the most familiar suet options, but crumbles, shreds and shavings are also available, as are a range of seasonal novelty suet shapes such as wreaths and bells. All are equally valuable to birds, but not all will fit in the same types of suet feeders.

The density, firmness and consistency of the suet depends on the initial quality of the suet, how carefully it is rendered, its purity and any extra ingredients such as seeds, nuts, insects or fruit. The climate, weather and other environmental factors can also affect suet, and birders should take those factors into consideration when feeding suet to their backyard birds. Many birders even make their own suet with customized blends best suited to their area and favorite birds.

Suet Feeders

There are four main types of suet feeders that are popular for feeding suet to backyard birds. While many birders may prefer one type of suet feeder, using several types of feeders will attract even more suet-loving birds that have different feeding preferences.

  • Suet Cages
    Cage feeders are the most popular type of suet feeder, and are typically made of coated wire for strength and easy cleaning. Cages may be made to hang independently or may be attached to hopper feeders that will hold seed as well. Many cage suet feeders include tail props for woodpeckers or other clinging birds, and covers are also popular to protect the suet from the elements.
  • Suet Logs
    Simple logs with predrilled holes are made for feeding suet plugs – the plugs are inserted into the holes and birds can cling to the wood to feed. The wood keeps the suet dry and protected. These feeders are also easy to make with a spade drill bit of the same diameter as suet plugs. Many log feeders will have natural bark or cut ridges to provide extra clinging security for feeding birds.
  • Mesh Bags
    A hanging mesh bag can be filled with suet for small clinging birds to enjoy. This is an easy suet feeder for recycling onion bags or similar items. Balls, chunks or cakes of suet can be used to fill the bag rather than needing specific sizes or shapes for the feeder. Suet bags are not always best for feeding larger woodpeckers or suet-loving birds, however, but they are ideal for small backyard birds such as nuthatches, tits and chickadees.
  • Open Trays
    A suet cake or leftover pieces of suet can be added to a platform or tray feeder for many birds to sample. Small suet chunks, pellets or crumbles are made for tray feeders, or birders may shred or chop larger suet cakes into tasty bites that will tempt small birds. This is also a great way to get birds to try suet if they aren't used to it.

    These basic feeder styles come in many different sizes and designs. Popular features of many suet feeders include...

    • Larger capacity to hold multiple suet cakes at once
    • Grills, cages or mesh to exclude larger bully birds from the feeder
    • Built-in baffles to deter squirrels
    • Upside-down designs to keep larger birds and squirrels away

    While suet feeders are popular, it is also possible to offer suet without a specialized feeder. Soft suet can be spread directly on the bark of a tree for woodpeckers, nuthatches or creepers. If suet is too hard to spread, it can be gently heated until it softens.

    Problems With Feeding Suet

    While feeding suet to backyard birds can be a great way to offer them fantastic nutrition and energy, if it is not offered properly it can cause problems. Fortunately, conscientious birders can easily overcome the most common problems with feeding suet.

    • Melting
      Because suet is rendered fat, it will melt in high heat or direct sunlight. No-melt suet blends are available that have been more finely rendered and can withstand higher temperatures. Putting suet feeders in shaded areas can also keep the cakes from melting as quickly. Many birders also choose to offer suet only in cooler months, but if placed properly, a high quality suet can be offered all year round.
    • Bully Birds
      Suet is a favorite food of many backyard birds, but less desirable birds such as European starlings and red-winged blackbirds will also visit suet feeders, often devouring the suet before other birds can feed. Choosing upside down suet feeders or feeder designs with exterior cages will minimize the suet these larger birds can access without preventing smaller birds from feeding.
    • Rodents and Other Pests
      Suet can be highly attractive to bird feeder pests such as mice, raccoons, squirrels and bears. Feeders should be positioned carefully so these pests cannot access the suet. Offering only as much suet as can be eaten in a day or two will keep these pests from being attracted to leftover, uneaten suet. Suet feeders can also be moved indoors overnight so pests cannot visit after dark.
    • Spoiling
      Suet can spoil in high temperatures and may go rancid, making it less attractive and unhealthy for the birds. To keep suet from spoiling, place it in a shaded, cool area and only offer as much suet as the birds can eat in a day or two. Unused suet can be frozen or stored in a refrigerator to keep it fresh until it is needed.

    Suet is a great addition to any backyard birder's buffet. Knowing how to offer suet to attract more birds while avoiding problems with this food will ensure that it is popular whenever birds need extra energy.