Suet is a popular, nutritious and easy food to add to your backyard bird buffet. It is one of the most popular bird foods during the fall and winter, when birds need good sources of fat and calories to help them survive harsh, cold weather. But what birds eat suet if you offer it in your yard, and how can you make this feeder treat attractive to even more species?
Suet is rendered fat, typically kidney fat from sheep and cattle, that is offered to birds as an alternative food source.
High in calories, it is an ideal energy source that is easy for birds to digest. Plain suet is perfectly acceptable to feed birds, but many suet blends are available that include seeds, nuts, insects, peanut butter or bits of fruit mixed in to offer even more variety and attract more bird species.
Suet is most commonly found as basic cake shapes, but is also available as plugs, balls, shreds, nuggets or crumbles depending on the manufacturer or feeder type. Commercial suet is readily available anywhere birdseed is sold, but many backyard birders prefer to make their own suet to offer birds a fresh cake specialized for their feeding preferences.
Birds That Eat Suet
Both large and small birds may eat suet, and it is a popular food for many different types of birds. Bird species that frequently visit suet feeders include:
Chickadees, tits, nuthatches, wrens and other small clinging birds:
- Black-Capped Chickadee
- Blue Tit
- Bridled Titmouse
- Brown Creeper
- Cactus Wren
- Carolina Wren
- Chestnut-Backed Chickadee
- Eurasian Bullfinch
- Great Tit
- Red-Breasted Nuthatch
- Tufted Titmouse
- White-Breasted Nuthatch
Thrushes, orioles, grosbeaks and other large passerines:
- American Robin
- Baltimore Oriole
- Black-Headed Grosbeak
- Brown Thrasher
- Eastern Bluebird
- European Robin
- Gray Catbird
- Hooded Oriole
- Northern Cardinal
- Northern Mockingbird
- Orchard Oriole
- Varied Thrush
Blackbirds, jays and other corvids:
- Black-Billed Magpie
- Blue Jay
- Clark's Nutcracker
- European Starling
- Gray Jay
- Red-Winged Blackbird
- Steller's Jay
- Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
In addition to these species, many other birds may take a nibble at a suet feeder, and over time, they can become accustomed to the food and may eat it frequently. Yellow-rumped warblers have been regularly recorded at suet feeders, believed to be because of their early and late migration habits when insects may not be as easily available. Several species of sparrows, tanagers and buntings will also eat suet, as well as occasional bluebirds. Even small hawks such as the red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper's hawk may try to access a suet feeder if it is within their reach. The exact birds that will feed on suet depend on what type of suet is offered, the feeder style, the birds' range, the season and what other foods are available, both at feeders and naturally.
Attracting Birds With Suet
Backyard birders can take several steps to make their suet more attractive to a wider variety of bird species.
- First offer the suet in easy to reach feeders, such as putting shreds or crumbles on a platform feeder to introduce the suet to birds in an easy accessible way.
- Place new suet feeders near other feeders where birds will notice them more easily, and take other steps to get birds to use the new feeders.
- Choose suet feeders that include roofs or more solid structures to protect the suet from sun and rain so it will stay fresh and clean longer if birds aren't eating it as quickly.
- Use only fresh suet and check the supply frequently to remove any rancid or spoiled suet that birds will not find as attractive.
- Put out only enough suet that birds can consume before it spoils, and freeze unused portions to keep extra suet fresh until needed.
- Consider customizing suet recipes with additional seeds or other foods birds will recognize until they have tasted the suet and become accustomed to it.
- If larger birds with larger appetites are a problem, use cage-within-a-cage suet feeder designs to discourage them and give smaller birds more opportunities to feed.
- Use baffles as necessary to discourage squirrels and other feeder pests so birds do not have to compete to access the suet.
A Note About Pests
Not only is suet an attractive food for many different birds, but it can also attract many unwanted visitors to backyard feeders, including squirrels, raccoons, mice, rats and even bears. Large suet feeders should be used with appropriate baffles and other safeguards to discourage these feeder pests. If suet is offered in tray or ground feeders, it should only be presented in small quantities that the birds will eat before other pests discover it.
By offering suet carefully, it is possible to attract dozens of different backyard birds that enjoy this rich, nutritious feeder treat.