Suet is a great food to offer birds in the fall and winter when they need more calories to maintain their body heat and energy levels. While there are many commercial suet blocks, cakes, and plugs available, making your own suet bird food is easy and affordable.
Why Make Suet?
Making homemade suet is just as easy as making hummingbird nectar or creating a custom birdseed mix for your backyard flock. It is also more affordable than purchasing commercial cakes, bells, plugs, or blocks. Making your own suet allows you to customize the ingredients to appeal to the types of birds in your yard or those you specifically wish to attract. A homemade suet mixture can also be free from preservatives, dyes, and additives. While there is no thoroughly studied evidence that many of these items may be harmful to birds, more natural, organic food sources are always preferable and have less risk of unknown or poorly studied side effects.
Suet is animal fat that has been rendered to form hard cakes, balls, or other shapes. There are several ways to acquire different types of animal fat for making your own cakes, and many birders have one method that is easiest or preferred for them. You can try different methods to find the type of fat that is most popular with your backyard birds as well as best for your bird feeding budget.
- Purchase rendered plain suet cakes or chunks from a wild bird supply store, garden center, or pet store. These cakes can be used as-is or can be melted down to be used in more specialized suet recipes. This will usually be the most expensive option, as these cakes have already been processed and shaped for feeders.
- Purchase suet or beef fat trimmings from a local butcher. This is a less expensive option and depending on your butcher, you may be able to have these scraps for a drastic discount or even for free. Also consider asking beef farmers or anyone who may butcher cattle about fat trimmings for sale or discards they're happy to give away.
- Save bacon and pork meat drippings to create your own suet. This will be softer than rendered beef fat but is still suitable for the birds as a rare treat. Do not feed birds exclusively bacon drippings, however, since some compounds from that type of fried fat could be detrimental to birds in the long term. Furthermore, excessive salt in these drippings may also be harmful, though more study is needed to determine how much salt birds can ingest safely.
- Buy lard at the grocery store. Lard is typically found shelved near the butter or margarine products and can be used the same way as plain suet, though it will be somewhat softer and may melt more easily on hot days.
- Buy vegetable shortening in place of animal fat. This is a preferred choice for many vegan or vegetarian birders who prefer not to use animal products, and it is still suitable for the birds. Vegetable shortening is typically found with baking supplies.
Simple Suet Recipe
Homemade suet recipes do not need to be complicated in order to attract a range of hungry birds. Before offering the suet to birds, however, it should be rendered to help it maintain its shape more easily. This step should already be complete if you purchase the suet in cakes from a bird supply store.
To render suet:
Chop the fat into small pieces or run it through a meat grinder. If you are getting the fat from a butcher, they may be willing to do this for you. Be sure all traces of meat, bone, or other tissues are removed.
Heat the chopped fat on low until it is fully liquefied. Do not use higher temperatures to melt the suet more quickly, as this could lead to fires or scorching. Stir the fat constantly to help it melt evenly without burning.
Strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth or a very fine mesh to remove any particles or contaminants. The suet should be strained several times so it is as pure as possible. It may need to be reheated between each straining to stay fully liquid and strain more easily.
Pour the fat into molds or containers and allow it to cool completely. The cakes can be chopped or cut to be fed to the birds, or you may use containers that are the appropriate size to fit your suet feeders. Extra suet can be frozen for several weeks until it is needed.
Once the suet is rendered, it can be fed to the birds as-is or you can add simple ingredients to make it more appetizing to a wider range of birds.
Easy suet recipe:
- 1 cup rendered suet
- 1 cup chunky peanut butter
- 3 cups ground cornmeal
- 1/2 cup white or wheat flour
Melt the suet and peanut butter together until they are smoothly blended and liquid. Add the cornmeal and flour, mixing well. These ingredients will make the suet more crumbly and easier for birds to eat, as well as less messy in the yard. Allow the mixture to cool slightly to thicken, then pour it into molds or containers to use. Refrigerate or freeze suet until it is firm and you are ready to use it. Extra suet may be kept frozen for several months until needed.
What You Can Add to Suet
While a simple bird suet recipe is useful, adding different ingredients to the mixture before it cools can make it more attractive to birds. Popular ingredients to customize a suet recipe include:
- Chopped, unsalted nuts, especially peanuts (do not use coated or flavored nuts)
- Dried fruit bits or whole, unsweetened raisins or cranberries
- Kitchen scraps (use only very limited quantities)
- Insects, such as dried mealworms, flies, or crickets
These are the easiest items to add to simple suet to make it even more tempting for your birds. Experiment with adding other ingredients to discover what your birds find most appetizing, and you’ll soon have plenty of suet-eaters at your bird-friendly buffet.