Originally Published: November 24, 2010 10 p.m.
I was recently doing a house-sitting job for a customer and was refilling his seed and suet feeders. When it comes to wild bird feed, I have a habit of looking at labels and reading the ingredient list and nutritional information. I was glad to see that the first ingredient in the cake I was putting out was rendered beef suet and not vegetable oil. The other ingredients - listed in order - were corn, milo, wheat, millet, sunflower seeds and berry flavoring.
Bird suet is formulated specifically for insect-eating birds, and is fed primarily in winter. Suet-eating birds have the ability to cling to the hanging feeder and will even hang upside-down as they feed at the suet cage. Examples of suet eaters are Bewick's wrens, bushtits, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, mountain chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers.
After rendered beef fat, the main ingredients in the suet cake I described earlier were corn, milo, wheat, and millet. All of these ingredients are geared for ground-feeding birds. If you were raising chickens or pigeons, these are the types of ingredients you would feed them.
In the wild, the only birds that might eat some of these ingredients would be mourning doves, Gambel's quail, sparrows and towhees. Can you imagine a dove or a quail clinging to and hanging upside down on a suet cage to get at those ground-feeding ingredients?
Why would a manufacturer put corn, milo, wheat and millet in a suet cake? The answer is, obviously, to make the cake inexpensive. The only purpose these ingredients serve in a suet cake is as filler. They provide minimal nutritional value for wild birds. And berry flavoring? What nutritional value is flavoring going to provide for birds in the dead of winter? The crude protein value for this berry suet cake was only 4 percent.
If you are a pet owner, hopefully you don't buy your dog or cat food based on the least expensive, lowest quality food available. I am confident that most pet owners seek to provide their cherished companions with food that is nutritionally superior, made with the finest ingredients and no fillers.
When providing food for wild birds, I hope you use a similar standard - that you read the nutritional labels and strive to provide wild birds with food that is healthy and provides the proper nutrition needed to maintain their metabolism in winter.
By comparison, here at Jay's Bird Barn, we sell an insect suet cake, which has dried mealworms and crickets, as well as ground peanuts. What a great product for insect-eating birds! The crude protein is listed at 10 percent - a far cry from 4 percent! There is no milo, no wheat and no millet in this bird cake.
Our peanut butter suet cake has only three ingredients: rendered beef fat, chopped peanuts and peanut butter. Again, no corn, no milo, no wheat, and no millet - no filler ingredients! The crude protein for this cake is 12 percent! We have an almond suet cake that has only two ingredients - rendered beef fat and chopped almonds. Again, no corn, wheat, milo or millet. The second ingredient in our blueberry suet cake (after rendered beef fat) is real blueberries, not berry flavoring. Additionally, it has peanuts and peanut butter.
I strongly encourage you to buy and feed wild bird products based on quality, and not based on price. You have to know that any time you are buying the cheapest priced item, you are getting what you pay for - filler ingredients with the lowest nutritional value.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2370 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for more than 40 years. If you have questions related to wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.