Last Updated on July 7, 2020 by NWBirdTop
Looking for suet that European Starlings and Common Grackles won’t eat? In cooler months of the year, try pure suet. I’ve been experimenting with this type of commercial suet this winter and spring. Pure suet has downsides, but it is worth adding to your bird feeding bag of tricks. Here’s why.
Experimenting With Pure Suet
Until this past winter, I’ve always used commercial suet blocks that include additions. These typically include things like peanuts or almonds, mealworms or insects. (Note: See my suet problems post to read more about choosing high quality suet, which additions are good ones and which are not.)
I currently have five suet feeders, three hanging on a pole in the back yard and two on a pole out front. Typically four will hold suet with additions and one will be a Pine Tree brand Nutsie block. But when the weather got cold late last fall, I tried swapping out one in the back yard and one in the front with blocks of commercial pure suet.
Which Birds Like Pure Suet?
My goal was to see how my local birds would react to the pure suet. I wanted to see which ones liked it and which ones would give it a pass. I was especially interested to see if the annoying spring suet hogs like European Starlings and Common Grackles would eat pure suet they way they do suet with additions.
During the winter months, I found that local Downy Woodpeckers and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers were fine with pure suet. I didn’t notice any particular preference between pure suet and suet with peanuts.
The reaction of other birds was more mixed. It appeared to me that Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens and Tufted Titmouses preferred the suet with additions. I would sometimes see these birds hop on the feeder with pure suet and then immediately move to the suet with peanuts. So I was refilling those blocks faster than the pure suet blocks.
Will Starlings & Grackles Eat Pure Suet?
When it got really interesting was after the mixed blackbird flocks arrived in the spring. Starlings and grackles can be a pain on suet feeders. If you serve it up in a traditional cage feeder, crowds of these birds tend to settle on the feeder. They will eat for long periods of time, not giving other birds a chance. Upside-down feeders help tremendously, but these birds will still take turns clinging underneath for short periods. Get enough of these birds, and it can still be a problem.
This spring, I watched the suet feeders to see how starlings and grackles would react to the two types of suet. Over and over again, I saw that these birds only went for the suet with additions (in this case, peanuts.) If they did go to a pure suet feeder, they immediately moved off to a feeder with the additions. This was a very pleasant development because it meant that they were only targeting three out of the five feeders.
But I wasn’t sure if this was just a preference on their part or a true aversion to the pure suet. So I swapped out all of the suet/peanut blocks with pure suet. Once the grackles and starlings saw the change, they lost interest in the suet feeders completely.
(Note: If there are other foods they like offered in feeders they can get into, they will still hang around, but that topic is covered in some of my other posts.)
Downsides of Pure Suet
So is pure suet the final magic cure to getting annoying grackles and starlings off your suet feeder? Well, no. There are downsides.
1) Some Other Birds Don’t Eat Pure Suet
First, while the two types of woodpeckers that visit my feeders seemed fine with pure suet, other smaller suet eating birds were less thrilled. I watched our local chickadees check out the suet feeder and immediately move to get sunflower chips instead. (So they didn’t go hungry.) I have seen Tufted Titmouses on the pure suet though. I’m not sure about the wrens. I’ve heard nuthatches will eat it but haven’t seen that yet.
Blue Jays also don’t seem to like the pure suet either, although they usually go for suet with additions in the spring when they feed their babies. When I switched out the suet, they stopped visiting the suet feeders. As I sit on my back step typing this, I just saw a Grey Catbird come to the suet feeders and leave without taking any.
So, at least at first, there seem to be quite a few birds who don’t like pure suet. I’m not sure if it is because they don’t recognize it as food. (It is pure white instead of the more typical tan.) Or maybe what they wanted from the suet was actually the additions and not the suet at all.
It could be that if I offer it long enough, some or even all of these birds might change their minds and start eating it. For now, I put out extra peanuts for them as an apology for the suet change. (See my post on feeding peanuts to backyard birds.)
2) Pure Suet Melts. Don’t Use in Warm Weather!
The second downside is that pure suet melts. Melting suet can dangerously coat a bird’s feathers. It can also make a mess of the feeder and the area underneath it. So once the temperature rises above about 70F, you need to take the pure suet inside and instead fill the feeders with no-melt/year round versions of suet. These are the types of suet with the additions. So pure suet is strictly a cold/cool weather food.
Try Pure Suet Next Winter/Spring to Discourage Grackles & Starlings
Because it is now late May and warming up in many places, the results of my experiment probably won’t help you with your annoying spring grackles and starlings this year. Unless it is still cold where you are, don’t try pure suet in your feeders now. But mark your calendar in the fall to buy some to try next winter. Or use your regular suet in the fall and winter and then try the pure suet when the annoying “blackbird” flocks arrive in the spring.
Commercial pure suet seems less common than suet with additions. If you can’t find it at your local bird store, this Pure Suet sold on Amazon is the type I’ve been using. (Note: This link goes to a page selling a 12-pack of suet. There is another page on Amazon selling a single block, that works out to be much more expensive per block.)
More Posts About Suet:
More Starling & Grackle Posts:
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