One of the most beautiful aspects of a garden is the wildlife it inevitably attracts. If you’re a bird lover, help the little cousins in wintertime with a DIY suet bird feeder. These are easy to make, and are vital food sources for countless species. Read on to learn how to make them!
How to Make a Suet Bird Feeder
In the Northern hemisphere, winters can range from rather dreary to downright brutal. This can be hard for a lot of people, especially those who are missing their gardens, and summer’s greenery. If you identify with the above feeling, then you’ll really enjoy this project we’ve got lined up for you.
Putting a suet bird feeder out is a fantastic way to invite your feathered neighbours to stop by for a treat. In turn, their presence will bring some much-needed colour and life into your winter yard.
What is Suet?
Suet most commonly consists of fat rendered from beef liver and loins. You can purchase suet balls or beef fat trimmings from your local butcher fairly cheaply. Lard from the grocery store is another option, but you should know that it’s much softer and may melt on warmer or sunnier days.
You can also use bacon and pork meat drippings saved from cooking, but this should be a rare treat. That’s because this type of fat contains much more salt than birds should consume on a normal basis.
For those who adhere to vegan or vegetarian diets, you’ll be happy to learn that you can use vegetable shortening in place of animal fat. This is a perfectly acceptable substitute and will still deliver sufficient amounts of fat and nutrients to the birds.
Why Put Out a Suet Bird Feeder?
Consuming additional calories is extremely important for birds to do in wintertime. This helps them keep warm and keep up their energy. A great way to give them those extra calories is through a suet bird feeder.
You could buy pre-made suet, but making it yourself is really easy and affordable. Furthermore, there won’t be any questions as to what ingredients are in the mixture. There are multiple ways to create a suet bird feeder, so I’ve outlined how to create them, and a few ideas for hanging them further on in this article.
Which Bird Species can You Attract?
A wide variety of birds will be quite happy to visit and help themselves to your suet feeder. A fair number will come just for the fat alone, but you can attract even more species by adding other ingredients. Be creative with additives such as peanut butter, nuts, and seeds, as well as pieces of dried fruit. Depending on your area and what you add to your suet, you may see some of the following:
- A number of different woodpeckers, such as hairy, red-bellied, downy, and pileated.
- Lots of small clinging birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, and wrens.
- Large passerines such as robins, blue birds, cardinals, and orioles.
- Corvids such as blue jays, starlings, magpies, and red-winged blackbirds.
Try a different combination of ingredients each time you make a new batch and record who stops by. This can be a fun activity for the young ones in your household.
Creating and Customizing the Suet
Before putting out the suet, it will need to be rendered in order to better hold its shape. To do this, the fat first needs to be chopped in small pieces, or passed through a meat grinder. If you’re purchasing fat and trimmings from a butcher, there’s a good chance that you can ask them to do this for you. If you’re doing it yourself, make sure that any bones, meat, and other tissues are removed.
Heat the fat in a frying pan on low heat until it is fully liquefied. Don’t be tempted to use high heat to speed up the process. You could run the risk of a fire by doing this. Slow and steady wins the race here.
Now that the fat is liquefied, you’ll need to strain it through cheesecloth or a very fine strainer. You’ll need to do this several times to rid the suet of any unwanted particles. The fat may need to be reheated in between straining to aid in the process. As the fat cools, you’ll notice it becoming kind of “gloppy” and it won’t pass through the strainer as easily.
Pour into molds
Once you have nice clean fat, you can pour into any moulds or containers of your choice and place it in the freezer to firm up. If you want to pat the fat into rough balls, keep checking it while its cooking in the freezer and take it out while it is firm but still malleable. Once you’ve shaped it a bit with your hands you can place the balls on a cookie sheet in the freezer to continue hardening.
Suet can be placed out with no additives but you may find that adding different ingredients will increase the variety of birds that you attract to your yard.
The following ingredients are welcome additions to any suet feeder:
- Peanut butter – use only organic natural varieties as the extra additives in other varieties can be unsafe for birds.
- Nuts and seeds – make sure these are unroasted and unsalted.
- Cornmeal, oatmeal, and wheat flour.
- Dried insects such as crickets or mealworms.
- Unsweetened dried fruit such as raisins and cranberries.
To add in these ingredients, put your strained pure suet into the frying pan and stir in. Peanut butter, flour, and cornmeal should be stirred together until well blended. Once blended let cool a bit before pouring it into your containers.
Hanging the Suet Bird Feeder
Once you’ve rendered the suet, there are many different ways that you put it out for your feathered visitors to enjoy:
Pans and Moulds
A really simple way to hang your suet is to pack it into a bunt pan and put it in the freezer. Then, when it’s ready to go outside, tie a loop of strong string or heavy ribbon around your suet “wreath”. Hang it outside a window where you can watch the birds enjoying their meal. Try adding some dried cranberries for a festive look around the holidays. Dried cranberries are perfectly safe for birds to eat.
You can also pat it into balls with your hands, or use any plastic containers you may have in your kitchen. The birds won’t judge you. I promise! I chatted with my mother about putting out suet when I was a child and we never went very fancy, but always got lots of birds at the feeder. She would save mesh onion bags and hang out the suet in them.
Pack the suet into the crevices of pine cones and hang in the trees in your yard. You can also pack the suet into half an orange or grapefruit peel and simply put the halves out on a feeding platform. Keep in mind, a covered feeder is best, as it lets the birds take a small break from the elements. It also stops your seeds and suet from getting buried in the snow, and helps the suet remain fresh longer.
This one is a great project to get the kids involved in. Lay a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet and have the kids pick out their favourite cookie cutters. Cut a length of string or twine for every cutter. Lay out the string and place the cookie cutter on the string about half way down the length of the string.
Press the suet into each shape while holding the string up so that you can lay the string over the top of the cutter when you’re done. Pack it in really well and press flat. Once you’ve filled all your shapes, place the sheet in the freezer to set the suet.
When the ornaments are ready, pop them out of the cookie cutters and tie the ends of the string. Hang them in the trees or from a pre-existing bird feeder. These will be best suited for smaller birds.
These types of feeders are quite popular and readily available for purchase in many hardware stores, garden centres and pet stores. Some will be free standing feeders and others are meant for hanging. These are generally constructed of coated metal mesh and may contain wooden elements depending on the design.
Something to keep in mind when putting out suet for the birds is that lots of other animals would be happy to partake in these tasty offerings too. Squirrels, raccoons, and ieven bears are the most common offenders.
You may have to experiment with different barriers to see what works best for you, but if you’re stuck for ideas, a quick search online will result in some pretty hilarious ideas and videos. I remember my grandfather putting large funnels upside-down on the poles of his bird feeders to keep animals from climbing up. Using grease to deter climbing has become quite popular, and can be even more entertaining than the birds themselves.
So although Winter can be a very trying time for some, it can also be a great source of pleasure.