can birds eat animal fat

Seeds are a great way to get birds into your yard—but they’re not the only food group out there. Birds have varied diets and some of the following foods will help you attract an even greater selection of birds.

Suet is technically defined as the hard fat around the kidneys and loins in beef and mutton, but in common usage, most kinds of beef fat are also called suet and can safely be fed to birds. Suet is particularly attractive to woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, jays, and starlings. Wrens, creepers, kinglets, and even cardinals and some warblers occasionally visit suet feeders. Animal fat is easily digested and metabolized by many birds; it’s a high-energy food, especially valuable in cold weather.

Raw suet grows rancid quickly when temperatures are above freezing; don’t offer that except in winter. When suet is melted and the impurities removed (“rendering”), it keeps much better, but can still get soft during warm weather. When suet gets soft, it can coat belly feathers, a dangerous situation especially in spring and summer when birds are incubating—tiny pores on the birds’ eggs may get clogged, preventing the developing embryo from getting enough oxygen.

Suet cakes are blocks made from suet or a thick substitute mixed with other ingredients, such as corn meal, peanuts, fruits, or even dried insects. Because corn and peanuts can provide a growth medium for dangerous bacteria, it’s important for you to make your own suet cakes or to buy them from reputable dealers. It may be prudent to keep suet cakes made with corn, cornmeal, or peanuts refrigerated until using.

Starlings are very fond of suet. To dissuade them, offer suet in a feeder that requires birds to feed hanging upside down. Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches will access it easily, but starlings cannot.

In winter, especially in cold climates, peanut butter is a nutritious food to offer birds. Peanut butter sold in grocery stores is certified safe for human consumption, and is safe to offer birds when cold or cool temperatures keep it fairly hard. In warmer weather it must not be kept outside long enough to become rancid or soft.

There is some concern that soft peanut butter can stick to birds’ mouths. To make it grittier, cornmeal can be added, but because both corn and peanuts provide excellent media for bacterial and fungal growth, make sure peanut butter feeders are cleaned out frequently. Peanut oils can separate in both pure peanut butter and in mixtures. If these oils adhere to a nesting bird’s feathers, they can be transferred to eggs, plugging the pores, so never provide peanut butter mixtures that become soft or oily.

Mealworms are larvae of a flightless insect called the darkling beetle. They’re a serious pest in granaries, but are safe and easy to maintain in our houses, confined in buckets or plastic bins.

Mealworms can be an excellent source of protein, calcium, and vitamins for a great many birds, including some that normally don’t visit feeders, but mealworms are only as healthful as the diet they are fed. If you order them in bulk, they usually come packaged in wads of newspaper, and will eat the paper, ink and all. So make sure to remove them from the paper as quickly as possible when they arrive. It can be tricky to remove them from their packaging—it’s easiest to avoid setting them free in your house if you transfer them from the packaging to your buckets outdoors, or over a very large piece of white paper so you can spot any runaway mealworms before they get far. They don’t live long away from an easy supply of food, but few people relish the thought of them, dead or alive, in crevices in their homes.

To maintain a large number of mealworms, fill the bottom of an ice cream bucket, dishpan, or similar bin with an inch or two of dry oatmeal or wheat bran. Add chunks of raw potato or apple for moisture, and then put the mealworms in. To improve the levels of many nutrients, especially during the nesting season, you can add powdered hand-feeding bird food (the kind marketed as a complete diet for hand-reared baby parrots).

Mealworms can’t escape a plastic enclosure such as a bucket as long as there are at least two or three inches of vertical wall between the surface of the medium and the lip. Keep them in the coolest place in your house—usually a basement is a great choice—on a surface where the bucket won’t easily get knocked over.

There’s a lot of excellent information about mealworms on the North American Bluebird Society website and about how to raise them on the Sialis website.

So very many birds will voraciously gobble up mealworms at feeders that offering them is only affordable if you set out a few at a time, at feeders inaccessible to birds you don’t want to subsidize. Small acrylic window feeders work well; if yours has drainage holes, make sure to plug them because mealworms can squeeze through surprisingly tiny spaces. Special bluebird feeders that exclude most other birds are available commercially, or plans are available here.

Fruits and fruit seeds

can birds eat animal fat

Many people in the tropics provide fruit for birds, which draws a lot of tanagers and other species that people in North America hardly ever think of as “feeder birds.” However, fruit feeders can occasionally draw robins, thrushes, waxwings, bluebirds, mockingbirds, catbirds, and tanagers, even in the north. Few members of these species have ever eaten from a feeder because so few people in the US or Canada offer fruit, so it can be difficult to get them to approach closely enough to understand the concept. Some great options are frozen berries, fresh berries, or chunks of fresh melons, apples, or grapes. Currants or raisins that have been soaked in water to soften them might also be beneficial. During spring migration, orange halves are especially alluring, especially to orioles.

Providing fruits can cause some serious problems. Feeders need to be emptied and cleaned frequently because it spoils easily. Providing fruit in a plastic cereal bowl facilitates this process. Fortunately, there is no compelling reason to feed fruit in the summer or fall when there is so much naturally available fresh fruit. Unfortunately, fruit attracts wasps and ants in the summer.

Birds may find pumpkin seeds, as well as those from other squash or melons, to be very appealing. To make them easier for smaller birds to eat, bake them or spread them out until they are completely dry, and then pulse them through a food processor to chop them up.

Jelly can be used to attract Orioles, Catbirds, and occasionally Cape May Warblers to visit feeders. Small birds may get entangled in the sticky jelly, so be careful to only offer very small amounts at a time. Furthermore, jelly contains significantly more sugar than any other natural food. Adult birds supplementing their diets in small amounts throughout the year or during severe food shortages brought on by unexpected cold spells in the spring are probably not unhealthy. While looking for insect food for their young in the summer, adult orioles and other birds occasionally stop by jelly for a quick snack; this won’t harm them.

can birds eat animal fat

While eggshells are a great source of calcium and grit, chicken eggs may contain salmonella bacteria. Hard-boiled egg shells were sterilized during the cooking process; however, if you are providing uncooked eggshells, bake them at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, allow them to cool, and then pulverize them into pieces no bigger than a dime. Provide eggshells away from your seed feeders, either on the ground, in a dish, or on a low platform feeder.

Not recommended. Although it might seem like a good idea to put leftovers outside to prevent waste, it’s generally not a good idea to feed birds in your backyard. The food may go bad and become unhealthy for the songbirds; additionally, it is likely to draw European Starlings, House Sparrows, and other unwanted animals like rats, mice, and raccoons.

Not recommended. Similar to suet, bacon drippings are animal fat that many birds will consume. However, nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic substances created from some of the preservatives in bacon, are almost always present in detectable amounts in bacon. Particularly, nitrosamine formation is encouraged by the extremely high cooking temperatures used to fry bacon. Therefore, even though birds adore bacon, using bacon and bacon fat is not justified because of the significant risk it poses to the birds’ long-term health.

can birds eat animal fat

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I used to feed the birds and supplement kitchen scraps with the fat from my grill pan or meat dish.