Suet is raw beef (or mutton) fat, especially the fat found around the loins and kidneys. Although it may be used to make everything from candles to Christmas puddings, this page is devoted to its use as a food for birds.
Suet is one of the most popular bird foods. It's the best food to attract woodpeckers, and among the other birds fond of suet are wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets, thrashers, creepers, cardinals, and starings. Mixtures of suet and peanut butter may attract woodpeckers, goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, thrushes, jays, kinglets, bluebirds, wrens, and starlings.
Suet is solid at room temperature, and so long as outside temperatures remain below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, all you have to do is put out raw beef fat. Trim excess fat off beef cuts before cooking, or buy suet from your butcher or grocer. If the temperature is warmer, beef fat can melt or turn rancid, and it's safer to use cakes of hard rendered suet. You can buy commercial suet cakes, or you can make your own using rendered suet.
To render suet, it's best to start with ground beef fat (ask your butcher to grind it if don't have a meat grinder, or else chop the raw beef fat as fine as you can). Heat the ground or chopped suet over a medium flame until all the fat leaches out. There should be nothing pink in your pan, only solid grey bits in a clear liquid. Strain out the grey bits by pouring the melted suet through a fine cheesecloth. Save the strained liquid fat and let it cool. Suet at this stage is still somewhat soft, but if you melt it and strain it again, you will produce a very hard suet. You may put out your rendered suet as is, use it to make suet cakes, or store it for later use (it will keep several months in a covered container in your freezer).
To make suet cakes, heat suet until it melts. As it cools and thickens, stir in chopped peanuts, sunflower seeds, bird seed mix, or other ingredients your birds will eat. If you'd like to try something a bit more adventurous, try one of the suggestions at Suet Recipes or Bird Treats
The traditional suet feeder is a small wire cage, which may be placed on the trunk of a tree or suspended from a branch. You can also place suet in a nylon mesh bag. Some bird feeders have a hopper for seeds, and suet cages on the sides of the hopper. You can put either raw or prepared suet in these feeders. Soft suet mixtures may be spread on tree trunks or smeared onto pine cones that may be hung.
Starlings are particularly fond of suet. To discourage them, use a cage that is covered on all sides but the bottom, so that the only birds that will eat the suet will be those that can hang upside down while feeding (this is not a problem for woodpeckers, but it gives starlings the fits).
Squirrels also love suet. You may be able to slow them down by protecting your feeders with baffles. If the squirrels still eat too much suet, take comfort from another old adage, "Render unto squirrels the things that are squirrels'." I know the squirrels believe it.
This page is brought to you courtesy of the Baltimore Bird Club and was edited by Terry Ross. Send any comments to Terry Ross at email@example.com