Kitchen Gardening

Birds are Wild for Homemade Suet

Suet cakes placed strategically in the garden help wild birds find their way to your landscape in winter. Homemade suet is easy to make, especially this vegetarian variety.

A recipe for vegetarian suet cakes includes coconut oil and peanut butter for the base, plus wild bird seed, oats and cornmeal. Wild birds like woodpeckers, wrens, and chickadees will appreciate this winter-time treat.
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

If you’d like to give wild birds a special treat this winter, let them eat cake – suet cake.

Birds that eat insects are especially drawn to suet cakes placed in the garden and landscape during winter. The list of wild birds includes chickadees, finches, goldfinches, grosbeaks, jays, juncos, nuthatches, robins, sparrows, thrashers, wrens and woodpeckers.

Suet cakes are sold at garden centers, pet stores, wild bird supply stores and online retailers that cater to wild birds. The cakes typically fit special hanging suet feeders that look like small cages.

A less expensive option is to make your own suet cakes and repurpose some common items for hanging them.

For example, net or mesh vegetable bags can hold suet and make it easy for birds to get to the nutrient-rich treat. The bags from onions, oranges and tomatoes make good feeders. Hang the bags or other feeders high, about 5-6 feet, to keep birds safe while feeding.

Be sure to feed suet during the cold winter months only, when temperatures will be below 50 degrees. The suet can melt in higher temperatures, causing problems for birds and making a mess on the ground under the feeder.

Most suet cakes are made with a base that includes lard, bacon fat or other meat grease. Meat products can present a problem for vegetarian bird lovers, but fortunately there’s another option.

I found a recipe for an easy, homemade vegetarian suet recommended by the National Audubon Society. Instead of lard, the base is made from any palm-free shortening.

For my vegetarian suet, I chose coconut oil for the base. Coconut oil a tropical oil made from the fruit of coconuts and is high in saturated fat. This “good” fat remains in a semisolid state, making it a good choice for a suet cake.

In addition to the coconut oil, the vegetarian suet recipe includes: a nut butter (like peanut butter), wild bird seed, quick oats and corn meal.

The dry ingredients are blended into the shortening melted with the nut butter and then placed into a form, like a plastic container or ice cube tray. When the shortening hardens, the suet cake is ready to hang.

The complete Make Your Own Suet recipe is available on the Audubon website.

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