Suet has long been considered a food that should only be fed to our bird neighbors in the winter. The reasons for this are during hot weather suet easily melts creating quite a mess, turns rancid, and when smeared on a bird’s feathers harm their ability to repel water. In addition, when it melts, its aroma has a tendency to attract unwanted visitors. Nowadays, however, if you know what you are doing, it is possible feed birds suet throughout the year.
Suet’s reputation of being only winter food offering surfaced back in the day when the only suet available to bird enthusiasts was animal fat preferably trimmed off the carcasses of cattle. Folks either would buy raw suet from the local butcher as feed it as is or render it themselves. Today suet is difficult purchase at the grocery store. Consequently, most of us buy blocks of rendered suet at stores that sell bird products.
Pure suet is an outstanding bird food. However, since it does melt when temperatures reach 90˚F and above, it should be avoided in hot weather. With that in mind, if you want to offer suet to birds in warm weather, turn your attention to suet labeled no-melt or no-drip suet. The only suets of this type that I have found are not what you can technically call pure suet since they contain a variety of other foods. One term that is often used to describe them is bird pudding.
For a number of years, I have fed a bird pudding containing peanut butter and peanuts. The birds are so fond of it I offer it to them throughout the year. Consequently, in addition to attracting a wide variety of winter residents, feeding it to them during the spring and summer has provided me some fantastic viewing opportunities that I would have otherwise missed had I limited using it only during the colder months.
For example, one afternoon last week the bird activity around a wire feeder containing suet laced with peanut butter and peanuts was exceptionally high. In roughly an hour, the feeder was visited by two hairy woodpeckers, a brown-headed nuthatch, gray catbird, cardinals, house finches, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, and Carolina chickadees.
I particularly enjoyed the visits of the hairy woodpeckers and Carolina chickadees. Since I do not often see hairy woodpeckers in my yard, spotting two was quite a treat. First, an adult arrived and ate for quite some time. While it was dining, an immature hairy woodpecker suddenly landed on the Shepherd’s hook holding up the feeder. The youngster landed near the top of the long metal pole and immediately slid down about a foot before flying up to the top of the rod for another try. As expected, he slid down the post again. It was amusing to watch as the bird vainly tried several times to hold on to the slim metal pole. Finally, it gave up and flew directly to the wire feeder and began feeding.
As for the Carolina chickadees, as well as I can remember, I have never seen four of them converge on a feeder at one time. All that changed when four flew in and ate suet together. They would peck at the food for a few minutes and fly off only to return in a few minutes.
I am convinced this was probably a family group.
If you try, feeding suet from now through summer, use no-melt or no-drip suet. Place your feeder in the shade and monitor the food very closely. If you notice it is melting or turning rancid, remove it. The safety and health of our feathered neighbors should always be your paramount concern.