The Essential Guide to Rendering Suet for Birds

Whip up DIY suet cakes yourself! It's easy (and cheap!) Learn the do's and don'ts of rendering beef suet for birds.

red-headed woodpecker eating suetCourtesy Catherine Delee Smith
Red-headed woodpecker

Stroll through any bird store and you’ll find prepackaged suet squares readily available in many varieties, from pure suet to those that include seeds, nuts and berries. While those are fine options, it’s fun and inexpensive to make your own. Learn the do’s and don’ts of rendering suet for birds.

Rendering Beef Suet for Birds

Real suet, in its traditional form, is raw beef fat. Raw suet needs to be rendered. Available at most butcher shops, the good stuff is super popular among nuthatches, chickadees and all woodpeckers, especially during the cold months. In fact, suet is one of the best foods for woodpeckers.

First, chop it into small pieces. (If you purchase it from a butcher, he or she may do this for you.) Next, heat the chopped fat on low until it’s completely melted. To remove potential contaminants, strain the liquid fat twice through a layer of cheesecloth. This also ensures that your suet cakes stick together and don’t crumble. 

Psst—Check out the best suet feeders for winter birds.

How to Make DIY Suet Cakes

tufted titmouseCourtesy Lisa Pascuzzi
Tufted titmouse

You can serve rendered suet plain or put a little love into it and experiment with various bird-safe ingredients. Mix in unsalted nuts and seeds, fruits and berries, peanut butter and cornmeal until the consistency is a bit stiff. Some people even mix in dried mealworms and other insects to entice bluebirds! Once the mixture has cooled a bit, press into molds (try cat food or tuna cans, or form into your favorite shape) and refrigerate.

Making your own suet involves a bit of trial and error. Depending on the ingredients you choose to mix in, you may need to experiment with the ratio of ingredients to avoid crumbly cakes.

“What’s your favorite suet recipe?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Diane Mlekush of McHenry, Illinois.

We actually haven’t settled on a favorite recipe, because we’re always experimenting with new ideas. But when we make suet, we always begin with equal parts lard and peanut butter, melting and mixing them over low heat. We add a variety of ingredients to this gooey mess: peanuts, raisins, rolled oats and cornmeal, to name just a few. Then we chill the mixture for a day before cutting it into blocks or cubes. When you offer birds homemade suet, check it regularly to be sure it isn’t moldy or rancid.

Switch up your bird feeding habits to see new species.

Safe Ingredients for Suet

Check out 8 common questions about suet for birds.

Unsafe Ingredients for Suet

While rendering suet to attract birds is incredibly rewarding, there are a few things to know before you jump in headfirst. Always avoid bacon grease, bread and table scraps. Ingredients such as corn and peanuts sometimes foster dangerous bacteria. If you use these, it’s important to keep the mixture refrigerated until you’re ready to use it in your feeders.

  • Bread
  • Sugar
  • Leftovers
  • Meat
  • Bacon fat
  • Salted nuts

Discover 9 foods you should never feed to birds.

Make Suet Cakes With Lard, Not Bacon Grease

Lard is a safe alternative to rendered beef fat. In fact, a combination of lard and peanut butter makes a nice base for any bird-friendly recipe. But bacon drippings are not recommended because the chemical preservatives in commercial bacon become more concentrated when cooked. This doesn’t pose a health threat to humans but can be harmful to birds. 

Next, see our list of the foods you should feed birds in winter.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.
Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.