Bird Watcher's General Store

What Suet Attracts Woodpeckers - 02/03/06


Dear Bird Folks,

I've heard that it's easy to attract woodpeckers just by putting out suet. Attracting woodpeckers may be easy, but picking out which suet to use sure isn't. The store I went to had a mind- boggling array of suet choices. There was orange flavor, berry flavor, and one kind had vitamins in it. Don't they make simple suet anymore or is that not a good thing to use? And if I have to use one of those fancy kinds, which one is the best choice. -Shelly, Bennington, VT

It's marketing Shel,

The people who make the suet are determined not to go down the same path as the people who invented soft serve ice cream. Soft serve comes in two flavors, vanilla, chocolate and that's it. There is no tutti fruiti, Cherry Garcia or rocky road soft serve. Once in a while some cutting edge companies will offer a blended twist of chocolate and vanilla, but that's about as crazy as they get. Two flavors might work with ice cream, but it won't cut it with suet. The suet makers decided that they would have to make creative flavors if they hoped to be around for years to come and perhaps open a chain of fast food Suet Queens around the country.

Some of that might have sounded silly, but it's not. Over the years I have sold suet from several companies that only sold basic suet. Those companies are now out of business. There was nothing wrong with their products, but people got duped into thinking that all the new, flavorful products are somehow better, even though they aren't. It really is all about the marketing. By adding orange flavor people automatically think it's better for attracting orioles. I doubt it. Does anyone really think that orioles are telling each other, "Dude, you have to check out that house on Main St.; their suet has some serious orange flavor happening in it." Most birds have a poorly developed sense of taste. They have no idea that orange is even in that suet. But just because the orange isn't practical, won't stop the companies from making it. And like you said, there is a mind-boggling array of choices. Besides orange, I've seen cherry, raisin, apple, pecan, calcium and something called "party mix." Whoa baby! To me, nothing says party like a block of boiled cow fat.

Don't get me wrong, Shel, there is nothing wrong with any of this stuff. It sure attracts the birds and to my knowledge, it isn't harmful. In fact, we sell tons of those flavored blocks every year, although we don't sell the party mix. The neighbors would complain. So which one should you get? I say get them all. I don't know of any serious study proving one block is better than any other, regardless of what the label says. Get one of each,try them and see for yourself if anyone is the best. And after you try them, offer some to the birds and see what they think.

We sell five or six flavors and they all seem to sell equally. If one was better or one was not as good, sales would tell me that. But since they all sell the same, it backs up my theory that birds really don't know any difference and don't care. With those silly flavor choices aside, the main reason to use these suet blocks is because many of them are made to not melt in warmer weather. The raw suet that you buy in the grocery store is probably the best choice of all, but as soon as the weather gets warm, it gets rotten. Most flavored suet blocks can be used year round. However, it is important to place them in the shade, because even the best of them may melt if the sun bakes on them. Dripping suet is not good if it gets on a bird's feathers or on your head.

If the thought of hanging blobs of white meat in the yard grosses you out, they make one that is pure vegetable fat. It looks like real suet and the birds seem to eat it fine. Remember, woodpeckers are omnivores, they eat both plant and animal matter, so the fact that it didn't come from a dead animal won't bother them.

I wouldn't be afraid to use any of the flavors, Shel. However, I don't think that wild birds need vitamin supplements. You might want to give that kind a pass. The other one to avoid is a new one called "Suet with Rogaine." The package claims that it is preferred by Bald Eagles, but eagles aren't really bald. Besides, it doesn't work. I've been eating it for six weeks and haven't noticed any improvement, although my chapped lips are much better.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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