You May Be Cutting Back on It in the New Year, But Birds Could Use Some Extra Fat about Now!

East Tennessee’s songbirds could use a little help from their human admirers during our short, but often cold, winters. While we may attempt to avoid highly saturated fats, for good reasons, high-metabolism birds benefit from such food, especially during winter, because they are full of heat-producing calories. The best way to deliver such food to our feathered friends is by adding suet to your offerings. 

According to Feeding Wild Birds in America (Texas A&M University Press, 2015), historical accounts reveal that Americans have been supplying hardened kidney, backbone and rib fat from cattle and sheep to birds at least since the mid 1800s. The idea of placing such fats in wired or caged containers developed in the early 1900s in response to the unintended guests, such as squirrels and raccoons, that were devouring suet left out on lawns or logs or in tree branches for the birds. 

Today, suet feeders come in a variety of types and sizes. Most, like the ones pictured, are designed for loading either genuine suet, which you can often get from your local butcher or meat counter at little or no cost, or pre-formed suet cakes, which usually include food additives, and can be purchased at local grocery, home and other retail stores. Either of these sources work fine.  

The suet feeders I craft in my woodshop are made from salvaged cedar. Cedar is the preferred wood for outdoor birding products because of its natural resistance to weathering and the fact that its aroma acts as a repellent to many pests and predators – including insects and snakes.

Building a single suet feeder requires several different cuts and dimensions of wood. This is because the design is intended to accommodate ease in refilling, as well as ample access for the birds. The lid acts as both a deterrent to squirrels and raccoons and the entry point for refill. The large screened openings on either side give birds wide access. 

After re-sawing the salvaged cedar on my band saw to the desired dimensions, I then rout the edges of many of the pieces to remove the rough edges and create a more finished look.

Many people ask about the purpose of the extension or paddle that attaches to the bottom of the suet feeder. This feature is known as a “tail rest” and it offers the feeding bird both a place to literally rest its tail and a platform for stabilizing it’s “posture” as the top of its body and head move continually and peck away at the suet.

In our area, suet feeders attract a wide variety of species. Among those I’ve counted at my suet feeders already this winter are pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, starlings, eastern bluebirds and blue jays.

For a very small investment in equipment and food, you can help our songbirds thrive during cold days and cold nights in East Tennessee.

Dean Johnson