Give Songbirds Some Suet
The frigid weather we have enjoyed in the past month has been hard on those tough little songbirds that prefer northern cold and bluster to warm southern beaches. We have another month before they will be safe from dying from the cold.
Perhaps you have noticed on those cold, wintry days most birds willing to even come out of cover and protection will fluff up their feathers, creating air pockets, which help keep the birds warm. The more air spaces , the better the insulation. Some birds go to the extreme of perching on just one leg, allowing the other leg to be drawn up to the breast for more warmth.
Even if you choose not to feed your songbirds with seeds in the winter, give serious thought to putting out a couple of suet feeders. Suet can be offered in a variety of feeders ranging from the common suet cage to a wood and wire feeder offering protection from the weather elements and designed to require the birds to hang upside down.
All birds need fat for energy. Seed-eaters get vegetable fats from nuts and seeds, insect eaters get animal fats from their prey. For birds that winter over and endure cold temperatures fat provides concentrated food energy to maintain body heat, especially when they are inactive at night. It fuels the birds’ high metabolic rate, which produces heat to keep them alive in the bitter cold of winter.
An important reason to offer suet to small songbirds is when there is no unfrozen water around. They will eat snow and melt it in their bodies. This little trick gets them water but it also takes an enormous amount of energy, more easily replaced if there is suet next door.
A suet cage might attract Chickadees, Goldfinches, Thrushes, Juncos, Titmice, Warblers, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Cardinals, Siskens, Wrens and Woodpeckers; lots of woodpeckers.
Suet is the fat trimmed from beef by butchers. While it is no longer free from meat markets (remember the good old days), it is still available in all kinds of stores at a minimal cost. Check out birding stores, garden centers, home centers, hardware stores, and even drug stores. A variety of commercial suet cake products are formulated from beef suet and various nuts, seeds and fruits. Commercial suet products generally last much longer outdoors in the weather than homemade versions. Many suet products advertise being appropriate for year round feeding. They don’t go rancid in the summer.
If you want to do the survival thing up first class, check out the website of the Audubon Workshop (www.audubonworkshop.com) for their Songbirds Winter Survival Kit. For $30 it provides all manner of suet feeders and suet cakes. Most importantly the kit includes a roosting box, designed to house a whole gang of small songbirds when the weather is particularly nasty.