Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Build a suet feeder in five minutes

If you have about five minutes to spare, here are instructions for building a suet feeder for birds this fall/winter. As part of the native plant and wildlife gardening workshop I taught at BOW a couple of weekends ago, I built these simple suet feeders with the class and people really liked them. It is a very simple feeder I have been using for 10 years or so, and it is the main feeder we use in the winter. Although I do have mixed feeling for bird feeders (click here for more information and more thoughts on bird feeders), I'm pretty comfortable using this one. The lack of perches and the placement of suet holes deter non-native birds like house sparrows, European starlings, and house finches. Those species like to perch on something while they eat, but native birds feed on suet and in the cavities and crevices of trees are "clingers" and are used to walking up and down trees.

These feeders are very easy to build (a great project for kids), and they are surprisingly effective for a variety of native birds including chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, many species of woodpeckers, and even juncos. I think the reason these feeders are so effective is that they mimic the trees (since they are, in fact, made of trees) that many native birds use for natural foods like insects and spider eggs. So, it is no surprise that birds have the search image of a log with treats inside.

Pictured below is everything you need to make one of these suet feeders- a log , a screw eye (I use #6), a drill bit to pre-drill the hole for the screw eye, and spade bit to drill holes for suet (1"- 1 1/4" ), and a drill.

Start with selecting a log. Any size will work (at least 8" long), the taller the better and at least 4" in diameter. It is nice to have a variety of sizes in your garden, some small ones that will only accommodate little birds like nuthatches, and some larger that will satisfy big woodpeckers.

Drill a pilot hole in one end for the screw eye.

Install the screw eye. Now you are almost done!

Then, bore out holes for the suet. Place as many as you'd like, and drill them about 1" deep. Try to keep the upper holes at least 4" from the top, so non-native birds won't be able to perch on the top and reach down into the holes.


Load the cavities with suet- it is easiest, but messiest to do this when the suet is room temperature.

Install and watch for birds- let me know how they work.

19 comments:

  1. After going through this aurtical i have decided to bookmark this site found this really interesting & thanks a lot for keeping the blog Lively with such interesting blogs.


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    Britney
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  2. Thanks for the instructions and step by step pictures for the suet feeder, with tips for gearing it towards the native birds. I'd like to try one this winter.

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  3. Thanks for providing this information .i'd like to do this.

    saroj
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  4. Northern Shade and Susan,
    I am glad you like this project, let me know how it works.
    David

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  5. Hi David,
    I'd like to make some of these -- do you recommend using them only in winter, or can I keep them up year-round? Do recommend hosing them down once in a while to clean them, or do you just start over each year with new logs?

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  6. Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad you are going to make some. You can feed birds all year with them, but in the summer (around here, that is) there is so much natural food for our native birds, that it is not necessary. Also, feeding in the summer will lead to pest bird use (like house sparrows, starlings, and house finches) and even squirrels or bears (depending where you live). So winter is the tie when birds need it most and by only feeding in the winter you can really help the birds that need it.
    Also another reason not to use it in the summer, is that the suet will melt out- kind of messy.
    Finally, you can use them for many years. I have some I've been using for about 10 years and I've never washed them or anything.
    Thanks again and let me know how it goes.
    David

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  7. Hi David,
    My husband and I created two feeders according to your specifications, and they are beautiful, but no birds have visited after 3 weeks. I'm wondering if it is my suet mixture? Last year, I used commercial suet in the suet cages and had lots of action on them by downy woodpeckers, pygmy nuthatches, and flickers (also lots of starlings). For the log feeder, I created a suet mix of lard, peanut butter, cornmeal, oatmeal, and mixed bird seed. I've not seen a single bird. What am I doing wrong?
    -Rebecca Sills

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  8. Apparently my husband saw a flicker on one of the feeders today, so maybe it will be o.k. I'd still be interested in the suet recipe you use, though. :)
    -Rebecca Sills

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  9. Hi again Rebecca,
    I'm glad you made some of these feeders- hopefully the birds will find them. As for suet, I use commercially available suet- and usually the cheapest kind. Also I do stuff the holes with deer fat. I never have had any luck with peanut butter (except for baiting squirrels, but that is another story). Good luck and keep me posted.
    Thanks again for your comments.
    David

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  10. Very cool project for young children, minus the drilling of holes Dad or a brave Mom can handle that task! We've made suet from peanut butter and bird seed.
    Traverse City, MI

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  11. I am excited to give this project a try! Do you have tips on where to hang the feeders- near the house, in the trees, out in the open, etc.?

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    1. Most sources say to hang them in trees where you have seen the birds you want to attract hang out, but I put a log suet feeder on my patio--six feet from my bedroom window--and red-bellied and downy woodpeckers feed daily at it, as well as Carolina chickadees/wrens, vireos and cedar waxwings (in season). Still waiting to be visited by a pileated woodpecker, but I live in the middle of a city, so probably will be waiting a long time.

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    2. I have one right outside my bedroom and patio windows as well and get Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied on it pretty much every day.

      They also go to one that's about 20ft. away, under a blue spruce tree. I've never seen Pileated WPs on the log feeder close to the house but they throw themselves around the trees on the perimeter of my property (lucky to live against small patch of undeveloped woods).

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  12. Wonderful! Thank you so much!

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  13. Hey this is very cool. I've been wanting to make one of these natural log suet feeders and appreciate your simple instructions and picture-heavy approach. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge!!

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    Replies
    1. Sooo...I fabricated two of these feeders today!!

      The only variation from your instructions was that I bored the suet holes out using a 1" spade bit since I didn't have a 1 1/8" available.

      I didn't finish before sunset, but I filled them both up w/ suet (allegedly woodpecker-preferred variety) and hung them under a very large evergreen where I have a birdbath and a few other small feeders (I removed some traditional cage-type suet feeders so as not to have overkill).

      Hopefully the red-bellied woodpecker that's been visiting recently will find these and go to it.

      Thanks again for your post!!

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  14. We had two log feeders for several winters but the squirrels finally enlarged the holes so much that we had to get rid of them. Went to smaller (probably factory made) ones but the Pileated Woodpeckers are having difficulty hanging on to them. Going to have hubby make some more log feeders. I got the suet recipe from Birds & Blooms a few years ago and all the birds love it! I've already made two double batches this year. They're trying to eat me out of house and home!

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    Replies
    1. I haven't gotten into making my own suet, but have seen really, really good uptake using surprisingly-reasonably priced "Woodpecker" blend CS suet that you can get at big places like Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Squirrels sometimes feed at mine too, but I haven't had any problem w/ them enlarging the holes or damaging the wood (but I also had the luck to get really good cherry stock that was freshly felled last fall). I'm still using the same ones for a year now. How big (diameter, i guess) do yours have to be to be stable enough for the Pileated to use? Anyway, good luck! :)

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