Solving Suet and Suet Feeder Problems

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Red-Belllied Woodpecker Eating Suet
Red-Bellied Woodpecker Eating Suet

After putting out suet in my yard successfully for many years, I have solved many suet problems. Offering suet is deceptively simple . . . if you pick the right feeder and right location. You want to keep squirrels and raccoons out of the suet and keep starlings and grackles from eating it all, while still keeping woodpeckers and other suet loving birds happy.

Squirrels like this one Eating Suet
Squirrel Eating Suet

How to Keep Squirrels Out of Suet?

The best way to keep squirrels out of suet is to hang it in a suet feeder on a pole protected by barrel type squirrel or raccoon baffle. Next best way is to hang it from a branch under an Erva extra-large baffle, making sure that the suet is well outside of squirrel jumping distance from every direction. See my Squirrels, Poles & Baffles Post for more on putting feeders on baffled poles. (If you instead plan to hang the feeder from a branch and need to choose a hanging baffle, be sure to see my post on Best Hanging Squirrel Baffle.)

Hot Pepper Suet
Hot Pepper Suet

Does Hot Pepper Keep Squirrels From Eating Suet?

Yes and no. In my experience, most of the time, hot pepper flavored suet is not something squirrels like and will mostly leave alone. BUT, if squirrels get hungry enough, especially in winter, they will eat it if they can reach it.

Raccoon in the Yard
Raccoon in the Yard

How to Keep Raccoons Out of Suet?

As with squirrels, the best solution is to hang it in a suet feeder on a pole, this time protected with a longer barrel type raccoon baffle. If that doesn’t do it or this isn’t an option, then you’ll probably need to bring it inside at night to keep raccoons from running off with it (along with the suet feeder itself.) Check out my A Raccoon is Eating My Suet post.

Starling Dangling on Suet Feeder is a problem
Starling Dangling on Suet Feeder

How to Keep Starlings and Grackles From Eating All the Suet?

European Starlings like to sit on suet feeders and eat and eat and eat until it is gone. Small groups of Common Grackles can sometimes also get quite aggressive about eating suet too. Limit them by using upside-down suet feeders instead of regular open cage feeders or other feeders that let starlings and grackles sit comfortably to eat their fill. They will still visit upside-down feeders and dangle briefly, but not for long periods at a time and not long enough to eat it all.

There are also feeders that put suet deep inside a cage so that only small birds can get to the suet. I recently started using an Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder as a way to offer suet to smaller birds and block out larger nuisance birds like starlings and grackles. Because it also blocks out larger woodpeckers, I still do use upside-down suet feeders as well.

Three Upside Down Suet Feeders / Raccoon Baffled Pole
Three Upside Down Suet Feeders / Raccoon Baffled Pole

Where to Put a Suet Feeder?

In my yard, I have a million squirrels (or at least it seems like it.) The best place in this situation is to hang it on a pole. If you don’t have squirrel or raccoon issues, check out my Where To Hang a Suet Feeder post for more ideas. If you have trouble with starlings or grackles using the barrel baffle on a pole to get to feeders, see my post on Nuisance Birds Use Baffles to Get Suet.

Suet and Nut Block Feeders Hanging From Tree Branch with baffles
Suet and Nut Block Feeders Hanging From Tree Branch

Where to Put a Suet Feeder If I Don’t Want to Use a Pole?

Check out my Where To Hang a Suet Feeder post for more ideas on where to hang suet feeders.

Commercial Suet Cake
Commercial Suet Cake

What’s With All the Commercial Suet Flavors?

Most commercial suet blocks include extra things like nuts or blueberries or mealworms or whatever that are supposed to appeal to different birds. I’ve tried quite a few of them and in my yard, and I honestly have not noticed strong bird preferences for any particular flavor additions. Maybe a slight partiality to added nuts? The suet eating birds in my yard eat any of them.

Pure Suet
Pure Suet

What About 100% Pure Suet?

Commercial suet blocks that are 100% pure suet without any additions are less common. Pure suet will melt in hot weather unfortunately. Melted suet can coat a bird’s feathers and cause them serious problems. Dripping suet can also make a mess. So this is something to use ONLY in cold weather. (I store any leftover in a cool basement in warmer months.)

I purchased some of these blocks to try out this past winter. Two of my five suet feeders contain the more common suet with extra seed and nuts included. One often contains a Nutsie block. When it got cold, I filled the final two with pure suet blocks. The woodpeckers seemed quite content to eat this pure suet at about the same rate as they ate other types of suet. Other birds were not as thrilled and seemed to strongly prefer suet with additions like peanuts.

Once the mixed “blackbird” flocks of early spring arrived, I watched what they did on the two types of suet. European Starlings and Common Grackles avoided the pure suet blocks. If they tried dangling on one of the feeders with pure suet, they immediately moved off the feeder to one with a block with peanuts added. This doesn’t prove that they won’t go for pure suet, but it does seem to show a very strong preference. This does leave the pure suet available to other birds. (Note: See my post on “Suet Starlings & Grackles Won’t Eat? for more on this.)

No Melt Suet
No Melt Suet

What About “No-Melt” Suet?

Manufacturers of “no-melt” suet render their suet extra times and also include additions to the rendered beef fat that help it not to melt in hot weather. If you are offering suet in warm weather, look for “no-melt” or “feed year round” or something similar on the suet’s label. The Spruce has a good article on “How to Keep Suet From Melting in the Summer.”

Commercial Suet With Blueberries Added
Commercial Suet With Blueberries Added

How to Choose High Quality Suet?

Read the package ingredient list. Look for rendered beef fat as the first ingredient. Nuts (as the second ingredient) can be an extra protein source and are often enjoyed by the same birds that eat suet but are not a requirement.

If you can, avoid ingredients like corn, wheat or milo. Some of these are just filler that probably won’t be eaten by any birds. Others attract birds you probably don’t want on the suet and may not be eaten by the birds you do want to see. Sometimes wheat flour is added to make “no melt” versions.

I’ve used Pine Tree Farms suet for many years and like the quality. I have never had trouble with it and my local birds seem to like it. This past winter I experimented with blocks of C&S Pure Suet purchased from Amazon. It is rendered suet with no extra ingredients at all. (Only use this type in cold weather as in hot weather it will melt and can also go rancid. See above.)

Nutsie Seed Cake
Nutsie Seed Cake

What About Nutsie Seed Cakes?

Nutsie Seed Cakes are an alternative to suet that tends to be popular with the same group of birds. The ingredients list is: “mixed tree nuts, peanuts, sunflower hearts, pecans, dried fruit, gelatin”. The 10-oz version is sized the same as regular suet cakes so they can be offered in the same types of feeder that are designed for regular square suet cakes.

Caution: Squirrels also LOVE Nutsie Seed Cakes so make sure you hang these where squirrels can’t get to them unless you are trying to feed squirrels!

Downy Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Downy Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder

Why Use Upside-down Suet Feeders?

Most of the birds that backyard birdwatchers are putting out suet to feed can easily cling and eat upside down. Nuisance birds that try to dominate the feeder and eat all the suet typically have a harder time hanging on upside-down for very long.

While they won’t keep them off completely, using an upside-down suet feeder limits the amount of time the annoying birds spend on the suet and gives clinging birds like woodpeckers, wrens and nuthatches a chance to eat. In my opinion, these feeders are well worth it. (I have five!) Here is a post reviewing the Birds Choice Upside-down Suet Feeders I use in my yard.

Downy Woodpecker Inside an Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder
Downy Woodpecker Inside an Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder

What About Erva’s Starling-Proof Suet Feeder?

An alternative to upside-down suet feeders is a suet feeder inside an outer cage. This type of feeder allows small birds to get to the suet but blocks larger birds who can’t fit through the outer cage’s wire grid. I recently started using an Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder in addition to my upside-down suet feeders. It works for small woodpeckers and other small clinging birds but is not for larger woodpeckers.

Carolina Wren Upside Down on a Tweaked Cage Suet Feeder
Carolina Wren Upside Down on a Tweaked Cage Suet Feeder

How to Tweak My Cage Suet Feeder?

If you already have a traditional simple cage suet feeder and an upside-down suet feeder is not in your budget, you can tweak it to turn it into a sort-of upside-down suet feeder. It isn’t as pretty and you’ll need to maintain it, but it does help limit annoying nuisance birds from completely dominating the feeder. You can read about how to tweak your feeder in my Starling Proofing The Suet post.

Looking Up at the Bottom of the Suet Feeder
Looking Up at the Bottom of the Suet Feeder

How to Help Birds Find Suet Hidden in an Upside-down Suet Feeder?

If you have switched from a cage suet feeder to an upside-down suet feeder but your backyard birds aren’t using it, don’t despair. They may need a little bit of help from you to show them where the suet can be found. You can read about how I did this in my yard in my Birds Choice Upside-Down Suet Feeder post.

Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Upside-Down Suet Feeder

Why Don’t Birds Come To My Suet Feeder?

There could be a variety of reasons. First, it can take days or even weeks for birds to discover a new feeder. Or maybe you have hung the feeder in an area that is too busy (with human activity, predator activity or even too much bird activity. Woodpeckers can be skittish.) Or there may not currently be suet eating birds in your immediate area. (Check out my Choosing Seed For Backyard Birds post for a list of which east coast birds eat suet.) Also, be sure that the suet is fresh. Also see my post on When Birds Don’t Come to Feeders.

No-Melt Suet
No-Melt Suet

Can Suet Go Bad?

Yes. Keep an eye on the suet you offer to be sure it stays fresh. Raw suet can go rancid fairly quickly in high temperatures. You can try putting your suet feeders in the shade to keep them a little cooler, but rendered “no-melt” or “year round” suet is a better choice in warm weather.

Mold can also grow on exposed suet surfaces even on year-round varieties. In my experience, this happens more in wet weather especially in more open suet feeders. Covered feeders that protect suet from rain seem to slow this down. Check the suet in your feeders periodically to make sure it is still mold-free.

Pine Warbler on Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Pine Warbler on Upside-Down Suet Feeder

Why Buy Commercial Suet?

There are recipes online for making your own suet and I’m not at all knocking them. People who make it often say that birds prefer it. So more power to them. But I personally find commercial suet cakes to be very easy to use, less trouble and the birds seem happy with them so I haven’t made my own.

Carolina wrens on a Nutsie Block in Tweaked Cage Feeder
Carolina wrens on a Nutsie Block in Tweaked Cage Feeder

More Questions About Suet?

Solving suet and suet feeder problems is doable. Most solutions boil down to the right feeder with the right suet in the right location. If you have more questions about offering suet to birds in your backyard, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer.

Nancie

Want to Read More About Suet? (Click on this link to filter the blog feed to show only posts in the “Suet” category.

Some of My Other Suet Posts:

Where to Hang a Suet Feeder

Best Way to Hang Suet Feeders

A Raccoon is Eating My Suet!

Birds Choice Upside-Down Suet Feeder Review

Suet Starlings & Grackles Won’t Eat?

Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder Review


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15 thoughts on “Solving Suet and Suet Feeder Problems

  1. Just found your blog and it is wonderful! So much of what you share with feeding suet I can relate to as I’ve had my ups &downs. As to the upside down feeders, I think the woodpeckers not only have to see the suet, but also have a learning curve as to how to reach it. Our downys are quite methodical to the approach they take to get on our suet logs and even more-so the upside down feeder. It took much patience to find just the right location, but now it gets used heavily. In time, the suet logs will be replaced with additional upside down feeders. Starlings dominate those.

    1. Hi Robert, Thanks! I totally agree that woodpeckers are very methodical about it. They find something that works and they stick with it. On the plus side, once they learn how to use one upside down feeder, they should recognize a new one and be totally cool with it. So you are already past the real tricky part. : ) Nancie

  2. Around here the Starlings make short work of just about any commercial suet. Upside down feeders will slow them, but they’ll be spending the entire day trying to get at it and scaring off the woodpeckers. But if I use 100% suet, they’re utterly uninterested. A few will peck at it as they make their rounds but eventually they stop showing up (unless I’m offering something else they like).

    1. Hi Jacob,

      Starlings are incredibly frustrating aren’t they? If they WANT something they are very persistent in going after it even if you make it hard. The only thing I’ve found that will completely block a starling from something they really want is a well-designed cage feeder but in the case of suet, that would block the bigger woodpeckers too. I agree that upside down feeders won’t block them entirely but will slow them down.

      It’s encouraging that you’ve had such good luck with the 100% suet. I have a stash of 100% suet stored in my cool basement that I’ve been waiting for cool weather to try out since it will melt in our summer heat. I’m excited to try it.

      Thanks for your note,
      Nancie

  3. Hello, I just discovered your website as I was searching for information about suet feeders. It is great. A few days ago I hung a small suet cage from a branch in my maple tree and birds discovered it the same day. It was exciting because it attracted two birds I had never seen before, a gray junco and an orange-crowned warbler. However, both of them and also the nuthatch that comes seem to prefer sitting on the branch above the feeder or on the top of the feeder to reach down to the top of the suet cake, so of course it will get nibbled down to where they can’t reach it anymore. I just put up a Birdola cage with fold-down wire perches but they don’t seem to like the perches much and still like to sit on top. Do you have any suggestions? Do you think they will start using the perches when they can’t reach the suet from the top anymore?

    Also, have you heard of rats being attracted to suet? I take ours down every night and put it up in the morning and so far they haven’t found it. Neither have the squirrels yet, thank goodness. Thanks again for your website

    1. Hi Sue, I think they will start with the easiest way to access the suet. I have not had those two particular types of birds eating suet in my own yard, so I can only guess at how they will react but I suspect you are right that when they can no longer reach it, that is when they will look for another way to access it. The best thing to do is watch them and if you see it’s not working, make adjustments. One possibility might be to cut a slice of suet to add to the bottom of the feeder to keep the top of the suet near the top of the cage.

      Rats eat all kinds of things and I suspect they would find suet appealing. If you find that rats or squirrels start getting into the suet, my suggestion would be to hang the suet from a baffled pole out of reach of rats and out of squirrel jumping distance. That might be the easiest way to deal with it. Another possibility is to hang an extra large Erva baffle between the tree branch and the suet feeder, which should help keep them out.This of course would mean that the birds would need to learn to sit on the feeder itself instead of the branch to eat.

      Good luck!
      Nancie

  4. great blog, thanks for sharing your backyard bird wisdom.

    just began using “raw suet only” cake this winter and no birds are into it. even have a share of raccoons and opossum visiting the yard and thus far, no takers. i also have multi bird mix seed with kernels and sunflowers and bits of nuts. so that alone attracts junco, robin, morning dove, cardinals, sparrows, wrens but have not seen man

    i don’t know if they don’t like it or can’t smell it but they love the peanut kind hanging on the opposite end. my suet feeder has space for 3 cakes but i only put out 1-2 at a time. i got the suet only cake at a local hardware store, but a few cakes from the local grocery were not popular either. i just worry about inferior quality harming the birds and squirrels who feed.

    also about to replace the most popular feeder b/c i have noticed more and more caked/damp food getting caught under the opening where the fresh food comes out. this will also not be healthy if birds eat this. so am thankful to have found your blog.

    1. Hi Lillith,

      This is the first year I’ve experimented with offering the pure suet without any additions too. Some people report that birds in their yard love the pure (often homemade) suet best, but I haven’t found that so far in my yard. It’s getting eaten at about the same rate as the other suet, but I tend to see woodpeckers on it rather than some of the other birds that go for suet. I think it will be interesting to see what happens in the spring. Usually the starlings get to be a nuisance going after the suet in the spring. I’m thinking they might leave this type alone and not bug the woodpeckers. (Fingers crossed.) Right now I’m offering both types so everybody is happy.

      I’ve found that peanuts are popular with a range of birds. Some of the birds that like suet like peanuts too, so suet with peanuts is checking off both likes for them. There may also be birds that are actually going for the peanuts in the suet cake rather than the suet itself.

      It’s good that you are replacing your feeder if the design is causing unhealthy food. I’ve learned the hard way over the years to read lots of bird feeder reviews before buying a feeder and not just buy one off the shelf on impulse. (Been there, done that.) I have reviews here but you’ll also see them on Amazon and on other blogs about bird watching. If you have a local bird store, they can be really helpful too. I’ve also learned to think about whether a feeder is easy or hard to clean before I buy it. Some feeders are simple and can be easily cleaned out with a brush and/or running water. Others are designed to be taken apart easily so you can clean them. But others are not and are a pain to clean. (Check the manufacturer’s website to see if they have cleaning instructions posted online.)

      Good luck!
      Nancie

  5. Please add me to your email list!
    Really love my birds coming to feed here in my yard. Finding the right feed and suet is priority for me. Squirrels , starlings and crackles are my biggest issues. Gggrrrr… love to hear the info you pass along to help keep our feathered friends happy!

  6. Hi, I’m fairly new at this. The Robins fly up to the suet in cages but never quite reach it & so don’t land on it like other birds. I bought a tubular feeder with loose seed hoping they would eat that but they still try and fail at the suet. We have to limit ground food to avoid rodents. Also no big trees in our backyard just very tall shrubs. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Gypsy,
      It’s interesting that your robins are attempting the suet cage feeders. I’ve never seen them show any interest in my yard, although I’m using upside-down suet feeders that I doubt they would be able to handle, so that is likely why.

      American Robins don’t typically come to tube feeders, so I don’t think that is going to work for you, although other feeder birds will probably like the feeder. Robins are mostly ground feeding birds. Tube feeders really aren’t designed for the way robins like to eat.

      Although I’ve never seen it in my yard, Feederwatch (https://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/ does say robins will also use platform feeders, which is more like eating on the ground. So that is a possibility. With your yard, you might consider a platform feeder mounted on a pole. If you have squirrels, be sure to mount a barrel squirrel baffle on the pole under the feeder and don’t put it too close to the bushes so squirrels don’t jump from there onto the feeder.

      This is a post about one of the platform feeders I use in my yard: https://birdseedandbinoculars.com/wordpress/putting-a-ground-feeder-on-a-pole/ I can’t guarantee that your robins would take to it, but since you are seeing so much robin interest in the suet, if you put a suet cake in it, they might try it and it would better fit the way they like to eat.

      One caution is that European Starlings and Common Grackles (as well as some other birds) are strongly interested in suet this time of year, so putting suet in an easy-to-access feeder might encourage those birds. (Some people are ok with those birds but many bird watchers find them to be very annoying.)

      Also, while some birds eat suet year round, some birds only show interest in suet in the spring when they have babies. Once their young have fledged and graduated to other foods, you may not see those birds on the suet again until next spring. That may be the case with your robins although that is just a guess.

      Hope this helps. Good luck!
      Nancie

    2. Hi Gypsy,
      Are you sure the robins don’t get any suet? I have two robins that park under the suet cage and fly up like you described, but if you watch carefully, they actually get a bit of suet each trip, and if any chunks fall to the ground they stay down and eat that first before resuming flights to the suet.

      Really quite fun to watch – never saw this behavior before this summer.

      Carl

  7. We have Jays that have all of a sudden taken an interest in our suet feeder that we got with the tail rest for the pilated woodpecker. The question is will that big of a bird use the upside down suet holder and will it discourage the Jays?

    1. Hi Sandra,

      I am not lucky enough to have Pileated Woodpeckers in my yard, so I haven’t seen this personally on my own feeders, but apparently they can use upside down feeders. Check out this video from Cornell’s birdcam of a pileated hanging on this type of feeder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9XcW0071Gc

      Now the question of jays. I offer suet year-round in my yard and the only time that the Blue Jays take an interest in the suet is when they have young to feed. This is typically in the spring, but I’ve got them on my suet feeders now in July, so I think they must have a second nest going. The rest of the year, they mostly ignore it.

      When I first got upside-down feeders, the jays had a hard time with them and mostly were no longer on them. But birds are smart and tenacious and over time, they get better and better at hanging upside down. They don’t camp out on the feeder for long periods, but they can come and jump up and dangle to get suet for a few minutes at a time. If your jays have never come across this type of feeder, this might discourage them for awhile. Or they may know how to use this type of feeder. If so, it will slow them down but not block them out completely.

      All of that said, my guess is that a Pileated Woodpecker is most likely dominant over a Blue Jay and can probably hold its own at the suet feeder. My guess is that if the pileated wants to eat, the jays will have to give way and the pileated will eat. (In my yard, the jays will back off if the Red-Bellied Woodpecker tells them to.)

      Good luck!
      Nancie

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