Suet is kind of a generic name for fat-laden treats for birds. According to Wikipedia, suet, “is raw beef or mutton fat, especially the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys.” Today, the word suet is used a little more loosely when discussing bird feeding. A suet block is made of some sort of animal fat, but more often than not, it is lard from pigs rather than true suet from beef or mutton. That is because true suet can be hard to find these days. Lard, on the other hand, is readily available in most grocery stores in the baking isle next to the shortening and cooking oil.
This winter, I watched the birds pick at several of my commercially available suet blocks. I thought that their enthusiasm was a little lacking so I decided to try making a suet block to see if they liked it better. Given my success in making my backyard birds happy, I wasn’t exactly confident of what the result would be but I had a free evening so I searched for some recipes.
Most recipes were pretty similar in the base ingredients of peanut butter and lard. From there, it seemed creativity and not biology ruled. Some recipes added bird seed, others added sand for grit, many added things like flour, cornmeal, bread crumbs and crackers. Most suggested adding sugar, and one required honey (clearly they haven’t priced honey lately). After looking over a bunch of recipes, I settled on this one from Birds and Blooms reader, Ethel Fleming of Hemphill, Texas.
Easy Suet Recipe
2 cups peanut butter (I use freshly ground peanuts)
2 cups lard
½ cup each of flour, old-fashioned oats, Spanish peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds (shelled) and chopped corn
Melt peanut butter and lard. Mix all ingredients in a large cake pan and refrigerate until hardened. Cut and place in suet feeders for your feathered friends.
The first batch I made I pretty much followed the recipe. Once birds discovered it, they completely abandoned the commercial blocks. Mine would disappear at an alarming rate and I was soon cooking up a new batch. This time though, I made some modifications. First, I didn’t have peanuts and cracked corn so I didn’t put them in. I added extra sunflowers though and ran them through a pulse or two in my blender to chop them up a bit. Also, I was out of raisins so I substituted blueberries and used about twice as many. I also put these through the processor for a burst or two. Since I save egg shells and grind them up for my garden, I added a couple of tablespoons along with two tablespoons of sand for grit.
I can report that, if possible, the second batch is even more popular with the birds. In two days they have gone through an entire block! Every species of bird at my feeder with the exception of the doves has had a go at the suet blocks. The downy woodpecker pair has become daily visitors as has the neighborhood redbreasted nuthatch. Personally, I think the blueberries are what made the difference.
Even though it is now spring, the birds continue to use the suet daily. The temperatures haven’t risen above 50 degrees F. so I don’t know how well the suet will hold up to warmer temperatures. I will keep you posted.
April 18: Temperatures are in the 60s today and the small piece of suet block still in the feeder is still intact. That is a good sign.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho