Food for Wild Birds
Suet is a wonderful source of food for the birds all year long, but especially during the winter months and when they are breeding. In the summer, I prefer to buy commercial suet cakes to use during the hot months as they won't go rancid in the heat, but in the winter I make my own suet as it is much preferred by the birds over the commercial brands. I've found that the feed store or farm store have the best prices on commercially made suet, but good prices can be had when buying by the dozen.
Penny Pincher Tip: Buy suet in the winter when it is generally on sale at the stores and save it for use in the summer months when suet prices are higher and when homemade suet would go rancid.
I've seen all kinds of birds eat suet, such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, black birds, wrens and juncos. Suet usually consists of some kind of rendered suet, beef tallow or lard. Beef suet or tallow can be purchased from your local butcher any time of year (though you may have to call ahead for it), and is usually available at grocery stores during the winter months. To prepare the tallow or beef suet that you got from the butcher, you will need to chop it up into small pieces or grind it and then melt it in a pan on medium heat until there are no pink bits left in the pan and only a clear liquid remains. Watch the pan carefully, and stir often as you don't want the fat to get too hot, smoke, or catch on fire.
This process can take quite a while depending on how much you have to melt and how small the pieces were to begin with. Cool the liquid slightly and then strain it through some cheese cloth. At this point the suet will be quite soft, so you will need to reheat it, strain it again and then allow it to harden overnight. This will produce a much harder suet that is easier to cut and handle. If you like, you can mix in nuts, seeds, or insects during the second heating and then pour it into a square pan or dish to harden.
Penny Pincher Tip:Save those plastic commercial suet cake containers and reuse them for your home made suet cakes so that they are the exact size that you need.
Since I really don't like to take the time to render suet, I prefer to use lard with all my suet recipes. Following are some of my favorite suet recipes. I've even included a PDF document with the recipes in 3x5 card format.
Suet Recipe #1
- 1 cup lard
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups quick oats
Melt lard and peanut butter together in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring often. Stir until blended.
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal and sugar. Pour in the melted lard and peanut butter and mix well. Start adding the oatmeal 1 cup at a time. The suet should be thick. Add extra oats if it is not thick enough, until it is too stiff to stir. Pour the mixture into a greased pan. Cool in refrigerator and cut or spoon into the proper shape for your feeder. This can be frozen if needed.
You can add extra chopped peanuts, chopped raisins, chopped sunflower hearts, and powdered sterilized eggshells. PDF of suet recipe #1.
Suet Recipe #2
- 2-3 large pine cones
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup lard or suet cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup birdseed
- 1/4 cup cracked corn
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons cornmeal
- Lightweight wire
- Wire cutters
- Pan lined with wax paper
Combine peanut butter and lard in a small non-stick saucepan and melt on medium heat, stirring often until blended and well melted. Add seed, cracked corn, cornmeal and mix well. Cool until it has thickened slightly, but still pourable.
Wrap one end of the wire around the base of the pine cone to make a hanger. Over the pan lined with waxed paper, pour the mixture onto the pine cone, turning slowly to cover it evenly. Leave a good portion of the top uncovered so birds have a clean surface to cling while they eat. Prop up the pine cones in the pan and put them in the freezer to harden.
Once the pine cones are frozen solid, wrap them in a plastic bag until needed. Hang them from tree branches or pine wreaths for an extra treat for the birds. PDF of suet recipe #2.
Suet Recipe #3
- 1 cup melted lard
- 3 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup unbleached or whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup quick oats
- 1 cup of honey (warmed so it's more liquid) or sugar
- 1 cup fine sunflower seed chips (or a high quality seed mix)
- 1/2-1 cup currants (or raisins cut in half)
- 1/2 cup ground oyster shells for calcium (available at feed stores for poultry)
In a medium non-stick saucepan, melt together the peanut butter and lard, stirring often until melted and well blended.
In a separate bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients and then add them to the lard mixture one cup at a time.
Add more lard or honey if too dry, more flour if too sticky - it should be the consistency of thick cookie dough.
Spread mixture in a greased cake pan and refrigerate until hard. Cut into squares to fit your suet feeder, or crumble and put in a separate feeder for bluebirds. PDF of suet recipe #3.
Specialty Foods for the Birds
Mealworms are a favorite of bluebirds, so if you want to attract them quickly to your yard, serving mealworms in early spring is a must. Place them in a platform feeder at least six feet away from a bluebird house will help to attract them faster.
Penny Pincher Tip: It's OK to feed birds people food once in a while, but it's really junk food and should not be part of their everyday diet. Day old cake donuts (plain) and bagels (plain) can be hung from a piece of wire or nail. It's also good to mix in crushed egg shells into their food as it is good for shell development in spring. Just bake the egg to kill any salmonella that might be present.