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 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 (and probably the suet feeder itself too.) 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 these 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 haven’t used these because they would block out the larger Red-Bellied Woodpeckers in my yard. But if you don’t have woodpeckers, they might be an option to consider. I’ve been told they work well to keep nuisance birds out.

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% suet without any additions are less common. 100% 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 have some of these blocks that I plan to try out this coming winter.

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 coming winter I plan to experiment with some blocks of C&S Pure Suet I 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.)

Nutsie Seed Cake
Nutsie Seed Cake

What About Nutsie Seed Cakes?

Nutsie Seed Cakes are an alternate 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.

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.

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.

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 just 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.

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 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

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4 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

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