One common idea for feeding wild birds in a garden – especially in winter – involves adding some healthy bird feed ingredients to a base of animal fat or suet.
Suet is great for birds, but not necessarily the best choice for our planet. For those who wish to make a more eco-friendly choice, peanut butter ‘suet’ could be a better alternative choice and uses very simple ingredients.
What Is Suet?
Suet is the hard, white fat around the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other livestock. Traditionally, it has found many uses for human consumption, as well as for birds. It’s still sometimes used in making puddings and pastries and the like.
Those who love to feed birds will know that suet is a great food source for birds – providing the fat they need to keep up their energy levels, especially over the coldest part of the year.
Suet and lard are animal fats that work well in a homemade bird feeder and are sometimes key ingredients in fat balls and other ready-made feeders for birds that you can buy.
These are often considered to be preferable to other fats like butter because they melt and spoil less readily.
Containers of suet or lard are often mixed with seeds, nuts, grains, dried fruits, etc., to boost the foraged diet of wild birds and give them plenty of protein and other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
However, they aren’t the only option, and there are a number of reasons why you might want to avoid these animal fats and find other bases for your homemade fat balls or bird feeders.
Why Should You Seek a Vegetarian Suet Alternative for Feeding Birds?
Suet and lard provide many of the fats and essential nutrients that birds need. However, providing for birds in this way can come at a cost.
Those who love birds will likely also love other animals and may be reticent to use any animal-derived products to sustain one creature at the expense of another.
Of course, if you’re vegetarian or vegan yourself, you won’t want to use these products anywhere in your home or garden.
However, even if you don’t have a fundamental ethical problem with animal-derived products, it’s worthwhile considering the impacts of the meat industry – especially factory farming – on our planet and all its inhabitants.
If you want to do the right thing for the birds in your garden, you obviously care about the natural world.
So your goal, to protect your feathered friends and other life on our planet, should always be to make choices that are as sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical as possible.
Meat and animal fats often come from non-sustainable agricultural systems that cost a lot in terms of their carbon emissions, pollution, and degradation of natural ecosystems.
So, choosing non-animal-derived sources of fats and proteins to feed the birds in your garden can often be a less damaging choice.
Why Choose Peanut Butter for Feeding Birds?
Peanuts are a natural vegetarian and vegan source of fat and protein. You can certainly feed peanut butter to birds.
However, the one caveat is that I would recommend using homemade nut butter, or a purchased one, that includes peanuts alone, and not the salt and sugar sometimes found in large quantities in commercial brands that you can buy in the store.
Peanut butter can be used as a sticky base for other bird food ingredients, just like suet can.
The added benefit is that peanuts can be grown organically, don’t involve harming animals, and, if you live in some areas, are something that you might even be able to grow in your own garden.
To make your bird feeding sustainable and eco-friendly, it’s always best to source foods for your feathered friends as close to home as possible.
If you live in USDA hardiness zones 7-10, you may well be able to grow your own peanuts and blend your own peanut butter at home.
In other cooler regions, other nuts could potentially be used to make different nut butters to provide both for your own needs and the needs of the birds in your garden.
Nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, and many more birds will love this mystery delicacy. The biggest problem you will have is keeping it out there in your yard and available as it will be eaten very fast.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, peanut butter is a nutritious food for wild birds.
Peanut butter offers a good dose of fat, which provides our fast-paced little friends with abundant energy for their active lives and fuel to keep them warm.
It also has the added advantage of serving up an abundant supply of protein.
How to Make Peanut Butter Suet
To make my own peanut butter (or other nut butter) fat balls or hanging feeders, I simply mix dry ingredients (seeds, grains, dried fruit) with enough natural 100% nuts nut butter to hold them together.
You will Need:
- A large mixing bowl
- A spoon or other stirring implement
- A suet cage, or something to press the mixture onto/into.
- 1-2 cups seeds and grains (sunflower seeds, millet, pinhead oatmeal, etc…)
- ½ cup rolled oats (porridge oats)
- ¼ cup natural home-dried fruits
- ½ cup natural nut butter (crunchy). (And a little more, as needed, to bind the other ingredients)
Blend all the dry ingredients together, then add the peanut butter, adding a little more as required to make a mixture that will hold together well and can be rolled into a ball-like shape.
The oats help soak up the oils in the peanut butter and make it less sticky. This is important because if peanut butter separates, the oils might get on birds’ feathers, which can cause them some issues.
Once you have blended the finished mixture, you can make balls with the prepared suet and place them into a suet cage. You can also press the mixture around a pine cone, into a coconut shell, or another natural receptacle.
How to Feed a Peanut Butter ‘Suet’ or Fat Ball to Birds
In a suet cage or smeared on a pine cone, in a coconut shell, or another base, your peanut butter mixture with its other ingredients can replace animal-derived suet or lard for a winter bird feeder.
You can hang your suet feeder or cage solution on a branch, from a pole, or in another location in your garden.
Just make sure that you don’t hang it somewhere that is easily accessible to pests or where predators might prey on the birds that visit it.
One thing to note about using peanut butter is that this can go off more quickly than other suet.
Therefore, it’s important not to provide too much, and to make sure that what you do offer is eaten quickly. Peanut butter can breed bacteria and fungi (molds) that could be bad for birds.
Like all oils, whether it’s found in animal fat or in peanut butter, they must be served with care to prevent them from turning rancid, as this could make our avian friends sick.
It’s also very important to make sure that if you use a feeder cage, or place this mix in another feeder, you clean it out regularly and thoroughly so pathogens and pest attraction don’t become issues.
I only provide this food for birds in the winter, as in warmer conditions it may spoil too quickly. But during the coldest part of the year, birds absolutely love this healthy addition to their diets.
No Time? Not Handy? You Don’t Have to Go Without!
Bird Feeder Plans
- Ice Bowl Feeder: A unique way to feed wild birds during the long cold winter season. It will bring interest and flair to your bird-feeding fun! Kids love this DIY project.
- Share Your Bird Feeder Plans: Enjoy homemade bird feeder plans that other site visitors have shared, and please feel invited to share your plans with everyone with photos too if you have them.
- Free Bird Feeder Plans: There is something quite satisfying in making something for your backyard birds to feed from. Free bird feeder plans offer you a variety of ways to do it.