For a number of years I used a standard wire suet feeder at my bird feeder. While it attracted some birds it did not provide a very interesting prop for photographing the birds. In looking for an alternative feeder my primary goal was to make something that provided an interesting landing spots so I could photograph birds in a more natural setting. I noticed a tip in Birds and Blooms that described how to make a suet feeder using a log. Since I live on an 80 acre farm I have lots of logs around.
More bird photos from the farm can be found on my website.
The first feeder I made was from a small log I had in my woodpile. It was about 18 inches long and partially rotted. That made it a little lighter to lift up to the feeder. I drilled a bunch of 1.5 and 2 inch holes in it and filled it with some commercial suet that I was using at the time. It seemed to work well and the woodpeckers liked it. One day, after a storm, it fell from the pole it was attached to and split into several pieces.
I immediately started looking for another log. This time I chose to make one out of a birch tree that had recently been cut down. I cut an 18 inch section out of it and drilled a number of holes in it. The birch worked well during the winter when the white blended in with the snow. However, in the summer it provided too much of a dynamic range when photographed with a dark background of grass and pine trees so I took it down and went looking for another prop.
This time I found an oak tree, out in the woods, that was partially rotted. I cut a an 18 inch piece out of it and drilled some holes in it. I used this one for a couple of years This past summer when it was really hot out the suet melted and impregnated the log and making it too heavy to lift up to the feeder.
Off I went again to find something else. This time I chose a partially rotted poplar tree. I also chose one that was about 3 feet long. I had a couple of reasons for choosing this tree. First it was a softer wood and I realized that Pileated Woodpeckers were attracted to it. I have plenty of Pileated Woodpeckers around destroying my poplar trees but they never show up at my feeder. Second, it had a number of broken limbs sticking out.
All of my other homemade suet feeds were straight sided logs. It was fine for the woodpeckers but noticed that the non- woodpeckers had problems using the feeder. They had difficulty holding on to the straight sided logs. They would try perching on any little nodule on the log but most of the time they were unsuccessful. I wanted to see if the new feeder with perches for the non woodpeckers would attract more birds to the feeder.
I have been amazed how much better this new feeder is for attracting birds. Within a few weeks of putting it up a Pileated Woodpecker turned up and has continued to come to the feeder all winter. This feeder has also attracted a variety of birds that never fed at my traditional suet feeder or my earlier straight sided feeders. This has included Northern Cardinals and Grey Catbirds. It has also allowed the Black-capped Chickadee and the Dark-eyed Junco to feed. In the past they tried but really needed a perch to stand on.
One of the problems with a homemade log suet feeder if getting the suet into the holes. Several companies make round suet logs which are easy to get into the holes. I just inserted them into the hole I drilled and cut them off with a spackling knife. I thought they were a little pricy. The other problem was that, particularly with the soft wood like Poplar the birds started to drill their own holes and enlarge the holes I made so the logs no longer fit. I started just filling the holes with suet by hand. That proved a little messy since most of the suet is crumbly. It made a mess but as long as I did it outside it wasn’t a problem. However, I started losing too much of it when the weather turned cold. When it reached -15 I decided I wanted to fill the feeder in the house. This really made a mess in the basement with crumbly suet.
A few weeks ago I decided to try heating the suet cakes in the microwave. I used a little too much power and the suet became the consistency of wet cement. However, When I took it down to fill the feeder it worked great. I just used a spoon to pour it into the holes. I poked it a little to eliminate air bubbles and with the cold weather the suet hardened like cement.
What I will be looking for in my next suet feeder will be a soft wood with lots of natural perches for the birds. This seems to create the widest range and the largest number of birds.
More information on my various bird perches can be found in an earlier blog.