It is super sad for me to read home-made suet recipes because nearly all of them are dangerous for birds, even deadly.
Reality is fats can get on birds' feathers and harm their ability to stay dry and warm. This is deadly in the winter, and even summer. And it's why feeding soft or liquid fats, or fats that melt easily at low temperatures is very unsafe. Greasy birds are dead birds, as lack of waterproofing, allows water to contact their skin, which then makes them cold - cold birds spend more time preening than eating. Once a bird is very cold, preening is most of what they will do. More preening, less eating = starvation.
Avian rehabilitators must use a high solvent soap to remove fats from feathers. And actually, in terms of removal, it is often harder to remove suet than petroleum products. However, sadly, we do not get the chance to catch most of these dirty birds.
Melt points matter! All but true suet and peanut butter have low melt points - veg oils, subcutaneous fats, bacon drippings, many fats misnamed as 'lard' or even 'suet' all melt at low temps. Making soft fats hard with ingredients (that birds don't really need like flour and corn) is not a solution. Note, even in winter fats can melt from the heat of the sun on them.
Beef FAT is not suet! This should not be used for feeding birds. Rendered beef fat is not "suet" -its low melt point makes it risky for birds' feathering and waterproofing. (Regions with zero degree weather, 24 hours a day, this can work, like the Arctic in winter). True suet is the fat around the loin of a cow. It is nearly dry, thus it crumbles when you handle it. Bacon grease, drippings from beef cooking, whatever is NOT suet, and is deadly to birds.
Vegetable oils: Coconut and palm are the only plant fats that are hard at room temperature. Their melting points are 75-77 degrees. This is way too low for a "suet" type of bird food. Also, birds likely do not have the digestive enzymes to digest these oils.
Peanut butter - Yes, it's safe, when mixed with something else. Melting point is high, 104. Just make sure that it has NO ADDED OILS - no other vegetable oils and no sugars. The best kind is fresh ground kind - where you pour the peanuts into a machine and you get fresh peanut butter, no salts, no oils, no sugar. Added to suet, this makes a "no melt" sort of suet. Peanut butter melts at 104 degrees, so adding it to the suet gives you a solid, low melt, hard 'suet' that is safer to feed birds (whom are landing close to these fats).
Test: pinch your suet between two fingers. Does it squish? Toss it and go for a no melt beef suet that has no or very little veg oil in it.
Test 2: handle the suet - If it crumbles and is nearly dry - it's suet. Recipes that require a lot of dry ingredients are likely using a soft fat that they have to try to hold together. Melting point 95 degrees - this is why it's safe to feed.
Cages only please. Never feed suet in a way that allows the bird to land on the fats. They will preen these fats right into their feathers. Log feeders work if they have a perch only - so drill a hole and put in a chopstick or small dowel. The squirrel proof one that has the suet inside and the cage out away from the suet so little birds can hop around and not on suet. If it's hard suet, it will fall as crumbles.
NEVER EVER EVER SPREAD FATS OR OILS ON TREEs!!! I cannot express how dangerous this is for birds. And you will NOT notice their demise, unless you are banding and keeping watch for months. What I am saying here is common sense, not that hard to reflect on why this is bad.
Keep feeders clean by washing in very hot water and soap like Dawn, regularly.
Time of Year
Fall, winter, spring are main suet feeding times. Late summer too before fall migration. Never over 80 degrees. Not in the sun, shade only, even winter as sun anytime of year directly on suet will soften it. (Partial sun is ok, just monitor to make sure it's not softening). Summer - make sure it does not go rancid! Change out frequently! (by putting in garbage).
Recipe for Favorite suet: No Melt peanut butter & suet. Ground oatmeal, corn flour or finely ground, quick oats with its flour, rendered suet. Add peanut butter if you want a no melt. You can add seeds, nuts, and fruit.
In sum YES, feed suet...safe, beef suet with good ingredients like seeds, some no melt with peanut butter, Test your suets...they should be hard. Have fun feeding. (Picture is from my friend Jane Tibbetts, songbird photographer extraordinaire! She's made a safe, very neat log feeder for the suet. Thanks Jane!
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