Suet is the perfect bird food for the winter months, when birds’ natural food sources start to dwindle. Suet also attracts several bird species that rarely visit a seed feeder. Here are three simple recipes for a homemade suet cake.
What Is Suet?
Suet is essentially a solidified mix of fats, which birds will eat to stay warm in wintertime. They’re also helpful in early spring when food supply is low and many birds are actively building nests.
A basic suet cake combines equal parts of beef fat and assorted birdseed. They can almost any seed or grain, mixed with beef fat, lard, or natural peanut butter. Birds also like dried fruits, so consider adding raisins, currants, apricots, or citron.
There are commercial suet cakes (about $2 or $3) which you drop into a “suet feeder.” It looks similar to a wire cage which not only discourages squirrels but also suits suet-loving birds which often feed upside down (versus nuisance birds such as starlings and grackles).
You can also make your own homemade suet (see recipes below) and it’s not necessary to buy a special suet bird feeder. Suet can be served on pinecones or speared on logs hung from trees.
Which Birds Eat Suet?
Suet is especially loved by nuthatches, woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and most insect-eating birds. Many woodpecker species rarely visit a traditional seed bird feeder but you’ll get a chance to see them at suet feeders. You’ll also seed other birds that don’t often visit a seed feeder including warblers and wrens.
When Should Suet Be Put Outdoors?
Homemade suet is traditionally a cold-weather bird food because the suet itself (the hard fat around the kidneys and loins of cows and sheep) can turn rancid if temperatures are below 70°F. If you live in a warm climate, we do not recommend using homemade suet because it will spoil too quickly. It’s also a good idea to hold off until at least December as suet (and other bird food) can attract bears and other critters if put out too early.
However, ready-to-use suet cakes (versus homemade) are rendered, or cooked, so it becomes less prone to melting and spoiling. They are often rated as safe to use in temperatures as high as 100° F.
Suet Cake Recipe 1
2 parts melted fat (beef fat or lard)
2 parts yellow cornmeal
1 part natural peanut butter (also a fat)
Suet Cake Recipe 2
1 pound melted fat (beef fat or lard)
1 cup millet
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup raisins
Suet Cake Recipe 3 (from garden.org)
1 cup lard (no substitutions)
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Instructions for All Recipes
Melt the lard/fat/nut butter in a saucepan until completely liquid. Remove from heat and let sit for several minutes.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook for a few minutes.
Pour into small containers (tuna fish cans are good), and refrigerate until they are hard enough to hold their shape. Release into a suet feeder or cut them into cakes, seal in plastic wrap, and store in freezer.
Mixture can also be stuffed into 1-inch holes drilled in small logs to hang from trees.
The recipe can be made all year long as long as you accumulate fat. Fasten containers securely to trees or feeders.