You can attract many birds by putting out suet cakes. You can easily make suet cakes at home and vary them to your local bird species. This is a guide about making homemade suet.
Birds have very high metabolisms and demand high amounts of energy to maintain their daily activities. Suet is a great way to help them replenish the energy stores lost during nesting, migration, and cold weather. It's also a great way to lure bird species to your backyard that might otherwise ignore your seed feeders.
Yields about 4 cups of suet
Variation #1: Cracked corn suet Increase cracked corn to 1 cup. Replace fruit pieces with 1/4 cup black oil sunflower seeds.
Variation #2: Sunflower suet Decrease cracked corn to 1/4 cup. Replace fruit pieces with 1 cup black oil sunflower seeds.
Variation#3: Peanut suet Decrease cracked corn to 1/4 cup. Replace fruit pieces with 1 cup of unsalted, bird food grade peanut halves.
Birdseed: If you feed birds all year round, then you are probably already buying bird food in bulk from farm or feed stores to save money. You can also mix in seeds from flowers going to seed in your garden. Some good choices are cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, poppies, asters, black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, and sedum.
Fruit: If you (or perhaps your neighbors) grow cherry or other fruit trees, collect fruit with insect holes or bird damage, and cut it into halves or quarters. Other good choices for fruits include native berries like chokecherries, juniper, elderberries, mountain ash, and service berries. Store fruit in the freezer until you make the suet. It can be added to recipes while still frozen.
Fat: If you eat meat, one way to acquire fat for suet recipes is to trim the excess from meats before cooking them, or save the drippings. Freeze fat in labeled plastic bags until you are ready to use it. Scraps of fat can also be sourced from local butchers. It's also available in the meat section of some grocery stores. Experts disagree about whether birds digest pork fat as easily as beef fat, but most agree that lard and vegetable shortening are not good substitutes.
Suet cakes can be set out for birds while still frozen. Pop it out of its container and if necessary, cut it into smaller pieces before dropping them into a mesh bag (or wire suet cage). You're your feeders from tree branches at least 5 to 6 feet off the ground. You may also want to try smearing the suet directly on the bark of trees. This will be especially welcome to bird species accustomed to clinging onto bark in search of insects.
I always give the birds stale bread slices PLUS I feed them seeds and suet cakes but today (since I ran out of store bought suet cakes) I put them all together! I buttered the slice of bread with chunky peanut butter on each side (one side at a time) then dropped the bread into my bag of bird seed!
Each slice fits into the pre-made suet holders perfectly!
If you love BIRDS vote for me!
By Donna from NE Pennsylvania
Keep an old coffee can and drain your beef or bacon grease into the can. When you have enough, melt it down. Add a little flour, some sunflower seeds and even a little peanut butter, and then refrigerate. When it goes solid, you can put in a suet cage or nail to a tree for the birds. ;)
Source: My husband
By Gooby from Straughn, IN
For those who enjoy feeding backyard birds, suet is a great choice for attracting a variety of beautiful species. "Suet" is a word referring to the hard fat from beef (or sheep), generally around their kidneys or loins. But for bird-feeding purposes, "suet" has now come to mean a rendered fat which hardens into a cake, and to which different things can be added and served to wild birds. Thus, a "suet cake," which is usually offered in a small wire cage. Yet even this can be misleading as suet is sometimes offered in plug feeders, in mesh bags, spread on tree bark or special ridged feeders, or crumbled on a tray feeder. Despite this, I will use the term "suet cakes" in this article. Before making your suet cakes, you will need to determine how you will serve it, and any of the above ways are fine. But using a "suet cage," which can often be found cheaply (about $2) and easily (even at some dollar stores) is the usual way to start.
Suet cakes attract a great variety of birds, especially in winter when birds are in special need of fats. These can be bought, but it is easy and economical to make them at home and birds usually prefer the homemade variety!
To make suet cakes, you need a rendered fat which will harden when cooled. This could be actual beef suet, bacon grease, lard, or even vegetable shortening. For a small batch, use about 1 cup of one of these fats, melted. Mix in one cup of peanut butter, cheap is fine! I buy my peanut butter for birds from discount (bent and dent) grocery stores, and I try to find chunky peanut butter because the birds like the peanut pieces. The fat and peanut butter will be melted together in the microwave or a saucepan.
I almost always use a little bit of cornmeal here, to create sort of a "dough" that will hold its shape well. To the one cup each of melted fat and peanut butter, I will add about 2 cups of plain cornmeal as a "binder."
Now is the time to get creative with additives! I look through my pantry to see what I have: bread crumbs, stale cereal, stale crackers, dried fruits, and nuts. Almost anything that birds would like can be added to the suet cakes. These will bulk up the cake, help it hold its shape and firmness, and be a treat for the birds. I usually only use things which I can buy cheaply, or this would not be "thrifty," and I often use items which no longer appeal to humans, but which would be fine for birds (thus the stale crackers and such). Chop any big additives up so the birds can handle them easily, and stir them in well so they don't settle to the bottom. Mix in the additives only to the point that the suet dough is still malleable so it can be packed into containers for hardening.
Many people choose to add bird seed to their suet cakes, but I do not. I already offer bird seed in other feeders. I like for the birds to be able to eat this suet without having to shell seeds. So the only exception is when I have "shelled" seeds, such as sunflower hearts.
After mixing your ingredients, pack into small containers to harden. Almost anything can be used, including the plastic shell left from commercially bought suet cakes. I use plastic food containers that are generally the same size as my suet cages. I have also used foam egg cartons to make small suet hunks that I can add to a suet cage as needed and which also fit nicely into a plug feeder. Pour into the molds and let harden in fridge or freezer. It's now ready to use!
If you are offering your suet in another way besides a suet cage, you may want to consider this before pouring into a mold. Suet "balls" have become popular and there are special feeders made to hold these tennis-ball sized hunks. You may be able to find a mold which can make this shape if desired. Or, you may choose to spread some of your still-warm suet on tree branches or a ridged feeder. I keep pieces of heavily ridged tree bark wired on our feeder tree for this purpose.
I have found that our yard birds prefer homemade suet cakes "by far" over the store-bought variety. However, this homemade suet is best served only in cooler weather, as it can melt or turn rancid in warm weather. I offer homemade suet from October to April here in Tennessee. For warm weather suet feeding, choose the store-bought suet cakes marketed as "no melt." It is still important to check these often in warm weather, as they can also spoil if left outdoors over prolonged periods. But despite common misconception, birds will eat suet all year round!
***One more note about suet. Many magazines and online articles will suggest that you "ask your butcher" for pieces of raw beef suet to render at home. However, many modern meat markets now receive their meat pre-packaged or at least partially cut and trimmed. My husband is a meat manager in a grocery chain, and most beef fat trimmings he does have are used in his store-ground beef. Because of this, many meat markets do not have excess beef trimmings. Feel free to ask your butcher, but please be understanding if they do not have extra beef fat to offer. ***
The bird in the photo is a red-breasted nuthatch, enjoying some of my homemade suet.
Source: Feeding wild birds over the years, as well as ideas from various bird magazines.
I just got done making suet for the wild birds. It is cheap enough to buy, but gets even cheaper if you make your own. The following is my recipe.
This tip is for all you birdwatchers out there! This past summer I decided to start making my own suet. I make up a batch every month and store it in the freezer until I need it.
Put this mixture in a suet cage and watch your birds enjoy.
Approximate Time: 15 minutes or less
I am an avid bird feeder. In the winter I save my grease drippings, mix them with seed and pour them in a paper milk container. Put it in the fridge to harden and once hardened tear off the paper. I save my net onion bags and hang the home made suet in them for the birds.
Combine all the ingredients; mix well. Put in an onion bag or suet feeder, or pack in pine cones or into the bark of trees. Then watch the birds enjoy this hearty feast.
Since peanut butter has increased in price, is there a substitute for it in making suet cakes?
By Pat Z.
Would anyone out there know how to make homemade suet? We have lots of beautiful birds around in the winter and we try to keep them happy. Thanks.
Barb from Mountaindale, NY
Suet is beef fat, so you can't really "make" your own. You can get it from a butcher and then use it as is, or melt it with seeds and such to make suet cakes for the birds. Butchers also sell it to make Christmas puddings, but most people don't bother with this any more, and use an alternate source of fat. I think the idea of feeding suet to the birds came from years ago when people had access to it because of doing their own butchering. It is not as popular as pork or bacon fat for cooking, and so was an "extra" thrifty, low cost thing that one could use to feed the birds. (10/27/2008)
Thanks for asking Barb and thanks for the recipe Kathy, I'm going to try it. (10/30/2008)
I think they just like the suet itself. Be cautious of peanut butters or bacon fat, as they contain a lot of salt, and can put the birds into a premature moult. That can be deadly to them in the winter. (10/31/2008)
I used to boil a little water and then melt 1 cup crisco shortening in it and then stir in 1 cup sugar and enough oats to make it thick. Then I would cool it a little and put it out on the fence in a margarine container. :)
Here is a website that has other recipes for suet:
Most of their recipes add peanut butter and cornmeal and flour. I never added those but it could be a great idea to do that. When I would put the suet out in a margarine bowl attached to the fence, then all the wild animals would come up from the neighborhood, possums and all, they all expected it at a certain time. Remember if you start feeding them in the winter to keep it up because they will be expecting that as a source of nutrition.
By Robyn Fed
|Homemade Suet In An Onion Bag|
I've also used small muffin cups and then placed these in recycled onion bags.
The birds love this. I've never made anything and placed it out for them that they didn't eat.
By Teena from IN
Please explain "render" to me, I'd like to make some for the birds using this method. (02/13/2008)
What a thoughtful idea! Rendering is cooking the fat and harvesting what rises to the top when refrigerated, right? (02/13/2008)
Render= cooking the bits of fat until all the grease is out of them and they are floating in the grease. I use bacon fat left over from frying bacon. I also add any of the following: birdseed, oatmeal, bits of fruit and nuts, cornmeal, etc. I also make these in muffin pans and put out "cupcakes"for the squirrels, away from the birdfeeders. Cuts down on the critters raiding the birdfeeders :0)
Maggie O in Bloomington, MN (02/13/2008)
Please do not use onion bags or any other plastic netted bag. I did this for many years until one time, in the cold winter months, a bird got its' leg tangled in the netting. I was home at the time and was able to cut the netting away from the bird's leg. It was very traumatic for me and the bird.
If I wasn't home, the bird would have suffered and most likely died. So, please invest in the wire cages, they do last for a very long time. Please pass this information to any of your friends who feed the wild birds. (02/14/2008)
Here is a site that will explain rendering better than I can.
I save all of the left over bacon grease, and grease from frying foods, put it in a jar in fridge, (dated of course). I also save the square suet container from feeding birds suet in summer. In the winter, I reheat the "saved" grease, add raisins, nuts, peanut butter, cornmeal, oats, cracker crumbs, birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. Mix it all together and put in the saved suet holders from summer. Presto, homemade suet cakes for the birdies, that fit in the suet holders. The birds love it, and it saves a bunch of money in winter time, when the birds really need our help eating good food to keep up their energy in the cold, cold winter!