A protein-filled meal to keep birds warm
The winter can be cold for little birds - so much so that it takes nearly all of their energy to keep warm and stay alive. Birds don't hibernate like mammals do, so they puff themselves up and keep active to stay warm in the bitter cold. Expending all this energy means that birds need the right food to keep their strength up. Birdseed won't do it alone - birds need fat and protein, too.
Suet, or fat rendered from beef kidneys and loins, is the perfect food to keep birds active. It has fats and protein to keep birds energized, healthy and good-looking - and the best part is, it doesn't rot in the cold weather. You can make suet any way you wish and include many different treats that birds will love. It's a huge attraction for little birds, especially those who cling to feeders, like nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, titmice, cardinals and maybe even bluebirds. You will also unfortunately attract some unwanted visitors like starlings and squirrels, but if you squirrel-proof your feeder you won't have a problem with these.
There are many different recipes for suet. A popular choice is to combine peanut butter with suet in a cake for birds. Other people will put insects or berries in the suet cake for an extra-yummy bird treat. Try different types of suet to see what the birds in your backyard like best. Just make sure not to leave it out in hot weather, as it will go rancid and can make birds and other animals very sick. Check the suet every so often to look for mold, and change it regularly to make sure that it's not going bad. The birds will probably eat it before it does, however.
We've included some suet recipes to help you decide what kind of treat you want to serve your backyard visitors this winter. If you want to render suet, simply boil down fat twice that you have saved from cuts of meat or bought from a butcher. Strain it and let it harden, then cut it up into chunks so that when you make your own suet recipes, it's easily melted down.
Gourmet Suet Balls
You will need:
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup birdseed
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup shredded cheese (cheddar works well)
- 1 cup unsalted assorted nuts
- 3 chopped apples
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 cups chunky peanut butter
- 1 cup lard, shortening, or suet
Mix all the ingredients together. If the mixture is too crumbly, add more lard or peanut butter. If the mixture is too moist, add more bread crumbs. Shape into balls, wrap in saran wrap and freeze. Once frozen, remove the saran wrap and place the suet ball in a mesh bag or tie a piece of string around it. Hang them outside for the birds to feast.
Easy Suet Muffins
You will need:
- 2 cups shortening (you can also use lard or bacon drippings)
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1 cup birdseed
Melt the shortening and peanut butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add the oatmeal and birdseed, mixing well. Pour into a greased muffin pan and insert a drinking straw in the center of each mold, and let the suet set overnight. Remove the straws, and thread a piece of string through the hole. The muffins will keep for up to six months.
Treat your feathered friends to different variations of suet muffins by adding a variety of ingredients to the basic recipe, including:
- Sunflower seeds
- Cracked corn kernels