How to use a suet bird feeder

It's suet season! Whether you're a novice or a pro with your knowledge of feeding suet, it's a good idea to brush up on the latest tips and recommendations for feeding this tasty, high-energy feed to the birds.

Check out the answers to the most commonly asked questions about suet and treat your backyard birds this winter!

 

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What is a suet bird feeder?
Why choose a suet feeder?
What birds are attracted to a suet feeder?
What type of suet should you use?
Can you make your own suet?
When should you put out suet for birds?
How often should you replace suet?
Where is the best place for a suet feeder?
Shop suet feeders

What is a suet bird feeder?

Suet comes in many different forms, including cakes, balls or logs and feeder design will vary to accommodate each type. The most common type of suet bird feeders are built with steel mesh cages that hold one or more suet cakes. To accommodate larger birds like woodpeckers, some suet feeders are elongated into a tail-prop design, allowing them to balance their body weight by placing their tail against the feeder. Some suet feeders expose the suet at the bottom. These upside-down feeders help deter nuisance birds like Starlings and Grackles who are most comfortable feeding upright.

pileated woodpecker on nature's way tail prop suet feeder downy woodpecker on nature's way upside down suet feeder
Left: Pileated Woodpecker on Tail-prop Suet Feeder (Model# CWF1)
Right: Downy Woodpecker on Upside-down Suet Feeder (Model# CWF2)

Some hopper style bird feeders come with suet cages attached on either side, allowing multiple feed options in one feeder, attracting an even wider variety of birds.

blue jay visiting nature's way galvanized hopper feeder
Blue Jay on Galvanized Weathered Hopper Feeder (Model# WWGF2-DECO)

Why choose a suet feeder?

Suet feeders are a good choice to have out in the cold winter months when birds are looking for high energy food sources, but they can be used year-round to attract a variety of birds.

In the wild, birds scavenge for suet and other animal fat from carcasses. In the cold winter months, when birds expend so much of their energy just to stay warm, animal fat is a great quick source of heat and energy for many birds.

What birds are attracted to a suet feeder?

You can attract a wide range of birds with suet including Woodpeckers, Titmice, Chickadees and Nuthatches. Many birds that eat insects to round out their diets will eat suet in the winter months to fill the void when the insects they typically feed on are not plentiful.

downy woodpecker on nature's way tail prop suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker on Tail-prop Suet Feeder (Model# CWF1)

What type of suet should you use?

The shape of the suet you choose is largely dependent on the type of suet feeder you have. Most suet feeders call for suet cakes, while others can hold suet balls, plugs, pellets, or shreds.

Suet comes in many different compositions, from plain fat to fruit, insect, seed, and nut blends. Some suet blends are customized to appeal to specific types of birds, such as a woodpecker blend or songbird blend. However, a plain suet cake will appeal to all birds who eat suet!

Suet can be fed year-round, however, be aware that suet does melt in the heat. If offering suet in the warmer months, choose a variety labeled “no-melt”, “no-drip”, or “summer”. These blends are rendered multiple times to help raise the melting point of the fat so it will last longer.

One downside of offering additional ingredients in suet during the winter months, when the heat is not an issue, is that it can attract some unwanted visitors, like squirrels or racoons. While most squirrels will leave raw suet alone, they will be attracted to any nuts or seed in suet blends. Some birders choose a hot pepper mix; while it won’t affect wild birds, it is not preferred by mammals and may keep them at bay.

Can you make your own suet?

Suet can be fed raw or rendered (put through a melting and re-hardening process) and formed into cakes or other shapes with additional ingredients. One of the main reasons you might choose to make homemade suet is to add other ingredients. Common ingredients to add include seeds, grains, fruit, nuts, and even eggshells. Another reason some birders opt to make their own suet is to mold it into certain shapes. To learn how to make your own suet, visit our beginner’s guide to suet.

homemade suet with mealworms and black oil sunflower seed

When should you put out suet for birds?

Wild birds do eat suet in the summer months, although most birders prefer to offer it in the fall and winter months as a quick source of heat and energy when other food sources are scarce. Suet can be offered year-round, even in warmer conditions, by using a no-melt variety that has a higher melting point.

How often should you replace suet?

When offering suet in the freezing winter months, it’s less important to keep changing out your suet, but more important to keep your bird feeder clean. Clean your feeder every couple of weeks to keep your backyard birds healthy and avoid spreading diseases amongst birds. You can remove the suet temporarily and place it back in the feeder once it has been cleaned.

As temperatures fluctuate throughout the year, keep an eye on your suet and visually inspect it for brown or black mold. Rancid suet has a strong odor, so if you can smell your suet, it’s probably time to replace it.

Store unused suet in a dry, cool place and use it within the recommended dates as advised by the manufacturer.

Where is the best place for a suet feeder?

If you already own and are having success with other bird feeders, try placing the new feeder near the existing feeders. Place your feeder roughly 10 feet from a natural shelter such as trees or shrubs to offer a resting place for birds between feedings and quick refuge from any predators. Be careful not to put feeders much closer than 10 feet from trees or shrubs since it can increase the likelihood of squirrels. Remember, feeders should be hung or mounted closer than 3 feet from a window or farther than 15 feet from a window to help prevent fatal window collisions.

Birds may prefer to feed from dependable food sources like existing feeders. If you’re not seeing any visitors at your suet feeder for a few weeks, try temporarily taking down your other bird feeders until the birds find and use the new feeder. Once they are regularly using the new feeder, existing feeders can go back up.

Remember to be patient! It may take several weeks before the birds find and begin feeding regularly from a new feeder. Before making any changes, try waiting at least two weeks to give the birds enough time to discover your feeder. As you try new locations or other changes, be sure to give the birds enough time in between to acclimate to the new modifications.

 

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