You might not be terribly eager to sink your teeth into a nice, creamy gobbet of fat, but to the countless songbirds that stick around during the winter months, suet is a nourishing food source that can make a huge difference as to whether they survive winter and sing for another summer. If you’re as much of a bird lover as we are, you might want to create some of these suet treats to help our little feathered cousins out over the lean winter months. They’re a bit messy to make, but the happiness you’ll inspire in those wee friends is well worth the minor gross-out factor, we promise!
What you’ll need:
- Rendered suet, tallow, or lard, at room temperature (most supermarkets carry it, or you can ask a local butcher to reserve some for you)
- A bag of mixed wild bird seed (make sure it’s a safe brand!)
- A bag of raw sunflower seeds (also for wild birds)
- Chopped dried apples, blueberries, cranberries
- Chopped peanuts (unsalted and raw)
- Plastic containers (like for cream cheese or dips)
- Halved coconut shells or orange peels (if filling them as feeders)
- A large bowl
- Spoons (wooden and metal)
- Thick cotton or hemp twine
Poke or melt holes through the bottoms of your plastic containers, and thread about 4 inches worth of twine through each hole. For each one, make a sturdy knot (tied 2-3 times), and on the outside of the container, allow another 2 feet of twine to hang freely—this will be the hanger for your suet snack, while the knotted bit is the anchor within the center of it.
Heat the suet gently in a saucepan until it’s all melted. In the large bowl, combine the various seeds and dried fruit, and then pour the melted fat into the seed mixture. Use your wooden spoon to stir this around until it’s mixed together thoroughly, and then use a combination of metal and wooden spoons to dole it out evenly into the containers. Once they’ve all been filled, leave them to cool and harden up for a couple of hours. If you find that you have more suet-seed mix than you need, pour that into a freezer-safe container and keep it frozen so you can use it for another batch in the future.
Photo ©Laura Whitehead
Once the mixture has solidified, you can either cut the container away from it to free it, or try to pop the disc out by immersing the plastic in hot water so the edges of the suet ring melt a little—this makes it easier to slide out. As alternatives to free-form “puck”-style snacks, you can pack this mixture into hollowed-out coconut shells, or spread it thickly onto large pine cones to be hung from branches as well. Hang your feeders in shady spots from sturdy tree branches, and prepare to make many little hearts flutter happily as neighbourhood birds come to peck away at the gift you’ve given them.
Nuthatch image ©John B
*Note: If you already have metal cage suet-feeders, you can just use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as your mold, and then cut squares out of the hardened suet mixture to fit inside the cage. Please also remember that fresh drinking water for wild birds is just as important as food, so if you do plan to create some feeders, setting out a bowl of water is a good idea as well; just keep an eye on it so you can replace it if and when it freezes solid.