How to Offer Suet to Backyard Birds

Suet Feeder and Bird Suet Feeding Tips

Downy Woodpecker on a Suet Feeder

River Wanderer / Flickr / Used With Permission

Suet is an excellent source of high calorie energy for birds, but it can also be messy and difficult to offer if it is not used in appropriate feeders or suet holders. By understanding how to feed suet and the best suet feeders to use, 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, hearts, 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.

European Robin Eating Suet Balls
Derek Σωκράτης Finch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Suet Feeders

There are four main types of suet feeders that are popular for offering suet to birds. While many birders may prefer one type of suet holder, 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, just as the birds would naturally cling to a tree trunk or branch. The wood keeps the suet dry and protected. These feeders are also easy to make with a spade drill bit 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 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 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, including birds that may never visit more specialized suet holders. Small suet chunks, pellets, or crumbles are made for tray feeders, or birders can 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, raccoons, and other wildlife
  • 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 and is spreadable.

Nuthatch on a Suet Log
Per / Flickr / CC by-SA 2.0

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, rats, raccoons, squirrels, and even 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 other animals 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.