Seed and suet are both fine choices to feed birds, but which truly is the better option at your bird feeders? The answer depends on many factors and can change throughout the year.
There are many different types of birdseed, from sunflower and millet to safflower, Nyjer, milo, and different mixes. Birdseed can be an economical choice for feeding birds and is easy to find. It can attract the widest variety of birds, can be used in a wide range of feeder styles, and is easy to store. Birdseed offers good nutrition for birds and can provide energy for active feathered friends, making it an excellent choice for year-round bird feeding.
Birdseed, however, has hulls and shells that can accumulate below feeders and discarded or spilled seeds may sprout unwanted plants. If it gets wet, seed can become clumpy and may not flow through a bird feeder so easily, and when stored, birdseed is susceptible to insect infestation or attracting rodents.
See also: The Do's and Don'ts of Feeding Suet
Suet is rendered fat that is shaped into cakes, balls, plugs, crumbles, or shreds, or may be softer to be spread as a butter-like feed. Suet can be plain fat or may be mixed with birdseed, bits of fruit, nuts, dried insects, or other ingredients to appeal to even more birds. Fully of concentrated energy and highly digestible fat, suet is ideal for times when birds need extra calories, such as during migration or in winter when other food sources may be scarce.
Suet, however, may melt and can attract less desirable wildlife such as raccoons, rats, and even bears. Suet may also stain surfaces such as decks or patios it if falls, and it may soften and melt or drip during hotter weather.
Choosing Seed or Suet for Your Birds
Both birdseed and suet are useful at backyard feeding stations and can attract a wide range of birds. When deciding which to offer at feeders, birders should consider…
- Species – Different birds will prefer either seed or suet. Woodpeckers, wrens, thrashers, bluebirds, and mockingbirds tend to favor suet when it is available, while sparrows, finches, redpolls, and grosbeaks tend to favor seed. Many birds, however, enjoy both seed and suet, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and jays.
- Climate – Because suet can spoil in higher temperatures, it isn’t necessarily the best choice where summers are long and hot. Birdseed, however, can clump together more easily in wet or humid climates, so birders should consider their overall climate conditions when choosing which type of food is best for their birds.
- Season – Birds change their diets at different times of the year based on what natural foods are most abundant, and birders can change what foods they offer to accommodate those preferences. Seed is a great in spring, summer, and fall, while suet is the ideal fall and winter food for extra fat and calories. It is important to note, however, that both seed and suet will be welcomed by birds throughout the year.
- Budget – The cost of feeding birds can add up quickly, and birders may need to choose which foods they offer based on their own budget. Commercially produced suet can be more expensive, but making homemade suet is a budget-friendly and bird-friendly option. Premium birdseed mixes are also more costly, but birders can mix their own birdseed blends for less.
- Feeder Style – Seed is generally more versatile and can be offered in hopper feeders, platform feeders, tube feeders, or tray feeders, while suet often needs specific suet feeders or other style to fit the size and shape of the suet cakes. Suet can easily be chopped or shredded, however, to fit in any type of feeder or simple dish.
- Cleanup – Both seed and suet require some cleanup to keep a feeding area clean. Suet can be greasy and sticky to clean up, while the hulls and shells from birdseed may need frequent raking, sweeping, or outdoor vacuuming to stay tidy and prevent unsightly accumulation. Feeders will also need regular cleaning to keep birds healthy and prevent food from spoiling.
The Best Choice
Ultimately, the best choice for whether to offer seed or suet to birds is a personal choice for each birder, and there’s nothing wrong with offering both! A more diverse feeding station will attract more birds and many different species, bringing even more enjoyment to the yard and helping support all different of wild birds.
Many birders adjust their offerings throughout the year to better meet birds’ changing needs and preferences, and keeping both seed and suet on hand is a great way to always be prepared to offer birds a nutritious, attractive meal.