how to make suet treats for the birds

I’m kind of obsessed with birds. It’s an obsession that developed when we bought the house Cat Farm. It started with one little bird feeder on the deck. Now we’re up to four. And 2.0 bought me the birds a heated bird bath for Christmas. He attached the bath to the deck this weekend and I even saw a bird drinking from it this morning. It was very exciting.

The cats sit upon the viewing bench in the dining room and watch the birds as they congregate around the feeders. I like to think of it as kitty cable tv. It took months to attract bluejays to our yard, but now they visit all the time. And though some people don’t like greedy starlings, they are welcome here at The Cat Farm.

Anyhoo, now that I know the birds have a heated spa (and source of drinking water in the cold months), I have turned my attention to creating suet treats. I’m no birding expert (I have a life), but after doing a little research, I learned that making suet treats is a very easy thing to do. There are millions of recipes and combinations online – it would seem that birds are easy to cook for. I make my suet in smallish batches, but you could make yours in huge batches and store your treats in the freezer. The important thing is a nice ratio of suet/fat to seeds. Think of the suet you buy pre-made at the store – there’s lots of yummy fat in there.

I start with some bird seed – a mix of several types we’ve got on the go. I’m trying to appeal to a variety of birds that frequent our feeders – blue jays, chickadees, four million starlings, etc.

Then I chop up some dried cranberries. Yah. That’s right. Our birds are essentially eating the same granola I make for 2.0 and I. We’re all class here at The Cat Farm. In total, about 1.5 cups of seed mixture, with about three tablespoons of chopped cranberries.

I buy frozen suet at the grocery store. Maple Leaf Chopped Beef Suet to be exact. It comes in 375 gram bags in the freezer section of the meat department. I’d read online that it really stinks when you heat it up, but the warnings were greatly exaggerated. So, put your suet into a saucepan and melt it over low heat. Don’t leave it unattended and stir constantly. Fat is a great way to burn your house down, so heed the warnings and use very low heat. I use about 3/4 of a package of suet – I just eye-ball what I think will mix well with my seeds – maybe a cup and a half of frozen suet. (That’s about equal portions of seed mix to suet.) You could play with the ratio. The suet I use melts well and doesn’t require straining, but if you find some bits of… stuff… that won’t melt down, remove the… stuff.

As an aside, I learned that it’s really hard to take a flattering picture of suet. It’s fat, people. And it ain’t pretty. So I took a picture of it in its melted state, with the addition of some peanut butter. Yup, once the suet has melted, I stir in a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. That makes it smell pretty darn good. I’ve seen some recipes that add as much peanut butter as lard, so I’m thinking you could add as much peanutty goodness as you like. I won’t tell you, however, as some websites do, that you will be tempted to eat your suet treats. That’s what some websites say: it looks so good you’ll want to eat it. No. No you won’t. It’s bird seed. And beef fat.

So, once the suet is completely melted in the saucepan, stir in your peanut butter, allow it to melt down (stirring constantly) and then remove from heat and let the mixture cool and thicken a little. Then stir the mixture into your seeds. Mix well.

Pour the suet/seed mixture into some aluminum tart tins. Let the mixture set. I partially fill four tart tins. Here in Halifax, we can recycle these tins, so once I’ve used them a few times, I can wash them and then put them out by the curb for collection. Awesome. I wash them, by the way, in between uses as well. Treat your birds well so they’re less likely to poop on your head.

Once the suet treat has solidified somewhat, I cut two small holes in the tins – close to the top and right across from one another. Then string a long piece of twine along the bottom of the tin and through the holes. (Pictured above.)

Then tie the suet feeder to the deck.

Gather the kitties by the window and watch the action.

Remember that your suet mixture is a perishable product. You don’t want to make your little friends sick, and you don’t want to attract the kind of friends that like rancid meat to your yard. You can make several servings at a time and store them in the freezer. I just stack my tart tins in a ziploc bag and freeze them that way. (The already-made suet bird treats you buy at the store have been fabricated in a manner that means you don’t have to worry about this.)

You can also make your suet in baking pans and once solid, cut into servings for your suet feeders. You could measure the dimensions of your feeder and cut your suet accordingly. Freeze the cut portions in plastic wrap, bags, or containers and take ‘em out when needed.

Also, suet is a winter treat. It will melt in the summer, and that’s gross. Your feathered friends enjoy suet in the winter because it gives them loads of energy to be cute and stuff. In the summer, they’ve got the image of you in your speedo for that.

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Want some more suet recipes? Here are some from the Baltimore Bird Club. Click here.

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10 Responses to how to make suet treats for the birds

  1. shay January 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe, I’m a huge bird fan myself. Been feeding them for a couple months now, I have finches, sparrows, mockingbirds, doves and the cutest little common yellow-throat coming around. They seem to like the peanut butter with seeds pinecones. Love watching them.

  2. Mark January 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    My dog would eat it unless I hung it up high or put it on a limb. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    • movita January 19, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      Dogs will eat… anything. That’s what makes them awesome. And expensive.

  3. Ana January 18, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    i would love a heated birdbath, but me-sized.

    • movita January 19, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      Well, are you very small, Ana? Do you possess any bird-like qualities? There’s a chance you could fit in our heated bird spa…

  4. honeybeeluvsjackfruit January 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    My family used to hang out suet for the birds in the winter. I have no idea how they did it though. I think it was in some wire mesh kind of thing which hung from a high tree. I dont recall them melting the suet. Wish I knew now!

    • movita January 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      I’ve seen people hanging their suet treats in mesh bags – like the ones you get onions in. I wonder if that’s what they did? Unless your family is magic. That would be super cool.

  5. susanna eve February 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    great post:) we have 3 store bought ones in the yard just now but will try our hand at making some for sure:) apparently you can get a vegetarian version of the suet at the grocery store too. We also have the dog factor in our yard, bird feeders have to hang from trees. Even so, the dog sits under the feeders and cleans up the leftovers:)

    • movita February 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

      This week I made some more suet with tons of peanut butter – the birds really gobbled it up. Here are some more ideas – http://www.birdnature.com/suet.html – I’m not sure how much help they’ll be with your dog though! I’ve been thinking about making a pan of suet, cooling it, and then cutting it to fit in our suet feeder. With all the snow we’ve been having, my little trays keep getting buried! I might give it a go this week…

  6. Dawn April 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    We have a gazillion squirrles on our land. We have 22 trees surrounding our house and no way to do anything for just the birds…the squirrels “always” find a way….sneaky little critters! But we adore them. They even ate through a wired squirrel proof bird feeder…not so squirrel proof after all!

    Anyway…in your investigative web surfing…if ya happen to come across any cool treats to make at home for squirrels, I would love to read about what you come up with! You have a fabulous way of crafting together what you like and making it wonderful. Looking forward to reading more! dd in Memphis

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