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NATURE HAPPENINGS - December 2005


The Skinny on Winter Fat
by Damian Fagan

December is the month of hanging wreaths, tinsel and bird feeders in Moab. And as winter closes in on the Moab Valley, you might want to “fatten” up your December bird feeding program with some delicious cakes of suet.

Suet is the hard fat layer surrounding the kidneys and loins of cattle and sheep. Rendered down, this fat is a major food source for some bird species birds like woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, and chickadees because it is high-energy food.

Historically, the rendered fat or tallow from livestock was used to make candles. Today, the wild bird feeding market uses this fat to create suet cakes of gastronomical delight. The Wild Birds Unlimited® stores often recommend the all-purpose cakes made with nuts or insects to attract the insect feeders.

The cold weather decreases the insect population and makes it harder for these birds to find food.

Serving suet is easy as loading a CD player. Feeder models range from wooden hoppers and vinyl-coated wire cages to mesh bags and suet logs. The typical square-caged version accepts a single cake of suet, while the hopper can be loaded from both sides. There are even tub-style cages that hold a large block of suet. These are designed for very active feeders that would otherwise require constant replenishing. Though woodpeckers may cling to the wire cages, the Tail Prop Feeders sport a wooden extension for woodpeckers to press their tails against for better balance.

Feeders help you to learn bird identification. The birds around your neighborhood may be attracted to the feeder thus bringing them up close and personal. This is a great way to watch birds from the warmth of one’s kitchen table.

If you are a “do-it-yourselfer” you could consider making your own feeders and suet. To make a log feeder, simply drill several 1” diameter ports in a two to three-inch diameter log and add a cup hook for hanging. An added hole on the bottom will attract nuthatches that can feed hanging upside down to feed. You can also render your own suet or trimmed beef fat but remember to cook it outside, otherwise your kitchen will smell like a greasy spoon for weeks. Mix partially-cooled rendered fat with two tablespoons of cornmeal, oatmeal, dried fruits, chopped nuts, or birdseed. Pour the mixture into hard plastic sandwich containers and refrigerate to harden.

For a fun child’s project, tie a string onto the end of a pinecone and then dip the cone repeatedly into the melted suet mixture. When coated, roll the cone in a tray of birdseed. Tie the pinecone to a tree limb and let your child watch to see who comes to dinner. You can always substitute peanut butter for the suet, and remember to hang these cones high enough to be out of a dog’s reach. You’ll want to place the feeders near escape cover as predatory hawks are bound to also take advantage of these feeders.

Feeding winter birds has come a long way from tossing breadcrumbs out the back door. Suet feeders make great, inexpensive holiday gifts that last long after the giving – unless you have a horde of hungry birds pecking on your feeders. But by then, you’ll have enjoyed a parade of feathered friends to your feeders to rival Moab’s annual Festival of Lights.

As a side note, the annual Christmas Bird Count needs feeder watchers to record birds at their feeders. The count will be held December 17, and you may contact Rick Boretti at 259-4050 for additional information.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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