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Birds come calling when the suet's out

Kibble-style suet, a mix of berries and dried insects made by Cole's Wild Bird Food, is an example of the different forms in which suet is available.
Kibble-style suet, a mix of berries and dried insects made by Cole's Wild Bird Food, is an example of the different forms in which suet is available. MCT

Suddenly, songbirds are ravenous, emptying feeders as quickly as you fill them. Most of the natural seeds and berries from plants are gone, and the drop in temperatures has them scavenging for supplemental food sources.

Meaning it's time to put out suet feeders.

Today's suet is not the messy, hard-to-manage lump of congealed animal fat your grandparents used, according to Cole's wild bird food company.

Instead, modern suet is gourmet, filled with high-caloric, high-fat nuts, grains and berries that help keep songbirds warm and healthier through the coldest months. There's even a squirrel-proof suet with hot peppers that birds like but bushy-tailed bullies dislike.

In addition to standard suet cakes, there are suet pearls with sunflowers buried in the fat, suet nuts that combine peanuts with berry suet, and suet kibbles that mix berry flavor and dried insects in a no-mess kibble form.

A variety of suet will attract more songbirds, including eye-catching woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches.

To inspire friends, family and neighbors to use suet feeders in their yards, consider giving a decorative wire suet feeder as birthday or housewarming gifts. It's a wintertime craft kids can help do.

Spray paint the suet feeder a festive color or leave it the natural color and embellish it with sprigs of greenery and berries, real or faux. Wire the sprigs to the feeder and place a wrapped block of suet inside. These could even be used as place-card holders that become take-home gifts for casual dinners.

You can also make your own suet, filling it with fruits, nuts and other goodies that will make songbirds love you even more. Here are some recipes, courtesy of suet experts like Cole's (Coleswildbird.com).

No-melt suet for birds

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1 cup lard

2 cups quick cook oats

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup white flour

1⁄3 cup sugar

Melt lard and peanut butter in microwave or stovetop pan. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into containers sized to fit suet feeders. Freeze and store suet mix in freezer. Keep in mind, these suet cakes do not melt in warm weather, but some are likely to sag in hot weather.

The mixture also can be formed into 3- and 4-inch balls or bell shapes and hung in plastic net bags that produce comes in; decorate with a ribbon bow to give as gifts or to decorate a tree outdoors. Woodpeckers love this suet. For an extra treat, add raisins or nuts to the mix or press them into the surface before freezing. Note: not for human consumption.

Shortbread for birds

½ cup vegetable shortening

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup nutmeats

½ cup cranberries or raisins

Cream shortening. Add sifted flour and sugar to mixture, stir in nuts and cranberries. Mixture should be crumbly. Add water if needed. Cut into cookie ornaments for outside tree or pat onto cookie sheet for crumbing. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown, about 15 minutes. Note: not for human consumption.