Suet is a popular food for many backyard birds, and it is excellent to offer birds year-round. Understanding the different types of suet available is the first step toward feeding birds this nutritious and appealing treat.
The basic suet cake and most popular size for this type of bird food is roughly 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) long and wide, and 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) deep. This size is designed to fit in most standard cage-style suet feeders, though some feeders are large enough to accommodate multiple cakes. While these types of cakes can be found in many pet stores, grocery stores, garden centers and wild bird supply stores, there are many other specialized suet shapes as well. The most popular options include:
- Balls: Similar to the density of cakes, but spherical to be stacked in large cages or nets.
- Plugs: Designed for log-style feeders for a more natural feeding surface for woodpeckers or clinging birds.
- Pellets: Small, bite-size pieces of suet in a shape similar to large seeds or nuts.
- Crumbles: Bite-sized suet pieces in a softer blend for birds to nibble.
- Shreds: Very small, thin pieces of suet that mimic the size and consistency of worms or insects.
Novelty suet shapes are also popular, particularly for holiday gifts, and suet cakes shaped as hearts, wreaths, stockings, pine trees, bells, shamrocks and other shapes can be found at different times of the year. Softer types of suet may be sold as “butter” or “dough” blends and while they won't fit firmly in a feeder, they are ideal for spreading on trees or posts for clinging birds to sample.
A plain fat suet cake is perfectly suitable to feed all the birds that eat suet, but a wide range of unique flavors are available and may tempt different species of birds depending on what mix-ins are part of the cake. Popular suet flavors include:
- Fruit: These cakes are flavored with cherry, blueberry, raisin, apple, orange, blueberry, pomegranate or other fruit flavorings, and typically include small bits of dried fruit in the mix.
- Insect: Dried flies or mealworms give this suet blend a crunchy appeal popular with insect-eating birds.
- Seeds: Seed-mixed suets are some of the most popular types and include black oil sunflower seed, millet, cracked corn and safflower seed added into the suet cake.
- Nuts: Nut-loving birds will appreciate suet blends with peanut flavoring or with whole nuts and nut pieces mixed in, including not only peanuts but also almonds, pecans and walnuts.
- Pepper: Hot pepper suet cakes are formulated to resist feeder pests with sensitive taste buds, such as squirrels and raccoons. These cakes include red pepper flakes, powder or flavoring to add heat to the blend, but birds have a very weak sense of taste and are not bothered by the additions.
In addition to these straight flavor offerings, flavor blends such as fruit-and-nut are also popular choices, particularly when many different types of birds may sample the same suet cake. Some blends are specially designed with certain birds' tastes in mind, such as woodpecker blends (fruit, peanut and nuts), bluebird blends (insect suet) and songbird blends (fruit and seed).
Many suet cake shapes and flavors are available in “no-melt” blends that birders may prefer in the summer. While the high fat content of any suet cake will melt somewhat in the hottest weather, these specialized blends have extra mix-ins such as flour or grain meal that help lower the fat content so the cake can keep its shape in higher temperatures. No-melt suet blends are available in many of the same flavors and shapes found for regular suet.
Choosing the Best Type of Suet
With so many different types of suet to choose from, it can be difficult to find the best shape and flavor to suit specific backyard birds. While most birds will readily sample any type of suet, if your backyard birds seem to stay away from your suet feeders, consider...
- Selecting flavors to suit specific birds' preferences, such as nut blends for woodpeckers, orange flavors for orioles or seed blends for songbirds.
- Opt for different shapes that fit birds' feeding styles, such as hanging balls or cakes for clinging birds like chickadees, woodpeckers and nuthatches, or shreds or crumbles for other birds like thrushes or bluebirds.
- Change to different types of suet feeders to discover which styles your backyard birds prefer. To keep from wasting suet until the birds are eating it regularly, cut cakes into pieces and store the excess in the freezer.
With many different types of suet to choose from, there is a perfect variety for every backyard birder's buffet.
Photo – Blue Tit on Suet © Nigel Wedge