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Attracting insect-eating birds to your woodlot will help preserve the health of your stand. However, after the first freeze, when insects become inactive, and berries have been stripped away by starlings, birds can get really hungry.  You can help them out by providing homemade suet mixtures.  They will be gobbled up by downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers; chickadees; titmice; nuthatches; juncos; and carolina wrens.   

Downy Woodpecker. Photo by Wendell Long.
Downy Woodpeckers relish suet. Photo by Wendell Long.

Most suet recipes contain rendered suet (e.g., Simply Suet available at Wild Birds Unlimited), lard (in the grocery store next to butter), vegetable shortening (like Crisco) or bacon drippings.  Other common ingredients include crunchy peanut butter, cornmeal and flour.  Additions that increase nutritional value or appeal include unsalted chopped nuts (peanuts, pecans or other nut meats), dried fruit (such as chopped raisins), sunflower seed chips (shelled) or other bird seeds, rolled oats, and sugar/ honey.

Suet mixtures aren't hard to make, and can be a fun project for children (just make sure they're not allergic to peanuts!). For recipes that call for melting suet/lard and peanut butter together, you can pour the suet mixture into cupcake papers in a muffin tin to harden. Remove the papers, and the cakes are ready for the birds. If using a pan, refrigerate the mix, then cut (a pizza cutter works well) into a size that will fit into a suet feeder, separate with waxed paper, and store in the freezer in a freezer Ziploc bag or sealed container. This makes suet easier to handle.  

Suet can be placed in a container (e.g., cat food tin or jar lid) or offered inside a specially designed feeder, some of which come with covers, or a cage within a cage to deter squirrels and large birds.   
Hang suet feeders on or near a tree, on a wooden post, or from your seed feeder.    If squirrels aren't a problem, you can feed suet in a log with holes drilled in it or a sturdy pine cone.  
Here is a basic recipe.  Many more can be found at http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm.

  • 1 cup lard
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 cups oats ("Quaker" cereal type)
  • 1 cup sugar  

Melt lard and peanut butter together (a microwave works fine). Stir until blended. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients, except for the oatmeal. Then, pour in the melted lard and peanut butter. Next, start adding the oatmeal 3 or so cups 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 wax paper-lined or greased or glass pan, cool in refrigerator or freezer. Cut into the proper shape for your feeder.

Originally published in Our Town and the ECFLA newsletter, January 2006

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