Suet Basics: How to Make Suet for Birds

Say so long to the store-bought stuff and whip up a fresh batch of your own.

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. Real suet, in its traditional form, is raw beef fat. Available at most butcher shops, the good stuff is super popular among nuthatches, chickadees and all woodpeckers, especially during the cold months. (Read more: The 4 Best Foods for Woodpeckers) Here’s how to serve up the real deal to your favorite fliers.

How to Make Suet

Raw suet needs to be rendered. 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. (Read more: 4 Ways to Make Homemade Suet)

You can serve it plain or put a little love into it and experiment with various ingredients. Mix in unsalted nuts and seeds, fruits and berries, peanut butter and cornmeal until the consistency is a bit stiff. Some suet aficionados 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 suet to avoid crumbly cakes.

What Not to Use in Suet

While it’s incredibly rewarding to cook up your own suet, there are a few things to know before you jump in headfirst. Ingredients such as corn and peanuts sometimes foster dangerous bacteria. If you use these, it’s important to keep the suet refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.

Lard is a safe alternative to rendered suet. 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. Bread and table scraps also should be avoided.

photo credit: Christine Haines
photo credit: Christine Haines Pygmy nuthatches snack on suet.

Suet in Warm Weather

Raw suet turns rancid quickly in warm weather. It melts when the temperature rises above 70 degrees and might stick to birds’ feathers. Gooey feathers are dangerous, so raw suet should be served only during the colder months.

Other Wildlife Like Suet, Too

Keep in mind that birds aren’t the only creatures that love suet. We’ve been fortunate enough to see flying squirrels visiting our feeders! Raccoons, squirrels, rats, skunks and even bears stop for a suet treat, too. So think about what animals live in your neighborhood before you decide where to place your feeders full of homemade goodness. (Read more: 13 Funny Squirrel Photos You Need to See)

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.