Location, Location, Location. This is as true when it comes to bird feeders as it is to the restaurants we humans like to visit. You can have a really great, well-designed bird feeder with fresh appealing food in it and get no or very few birds if the location is wrong. I’ve found that finding the right spot can make all the difference. Here is what I’ve learned about where to place suet feeders. It may just give you some ideas on where to place your own!
Trial and Error is my method of operation in many things, whether it is organizing craft supplies, arranging furniture or placing bird feeders. When I reviewed the Backyard Boys Platform Feeders recently, I told you about how I tried different spots for these feeders until I found where they worked best. I’ve used a similar trial and error approach to figuring out where to put suet and nut block feeders. It’s taught me what works and what doesn’t work.
Window Considerations: To minimize bird window strikes (which can be deadly to birds) it is recommended that you place feeders either within three feet of a window or more than thirty feet from a window. The idea is that a startled bird can’t get up enough speed to hurt themselves badly from three feet away and windows are less likely to be seen as a fly-through at distances of thirty feet away. So I’ve tried putting suet blocks close to windows. In some cases this works and in others it has not.
What Works: Next to the bedroom windows at the front of our house are two leggy bushes. I have two suet blocks hanging from these bush branches about three feet from the window. There is also a homemade birdbath in this area and a Squirrel Buster Plus Feeder hanging from a tree about thirty feet away, making it a popular spot with birds in my yard.
The suet in this location appeals to Downy Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens and Tufted Titmouses all year round, as well as the occasional Red-Bellied Woodpecker. In the spring, other birds, especially Blue Jays, bring their fledglings to these feeders to eat suet, which is very cool to watch.
There is a window seat on the inside of this window where our four indoor cats like to sleep and bird watch. The birds seem to realize that they are no danger behind the glass and ignore the cats. The downside to this feeder location is that they are easy for squirrels to access so they are occasional pests on them.
What Works: Another suet feeder is near a window at the far front end of the house hidden behind a large evergreen bush. This feeder dangles by a long chain from a thin flexible branch of the bush. It is popular with the same birds, as well as Northern Cardinals and House Sparrows, who seem to prefer this more protected location. Here too, one of our cats can often be found on the other side of the window, bird watching. This feeder, dangling on such a long chain, requires the squirrels to be more acrobatic to eat from it, but they can still get into it if they are hungry enough to mess with it. I did move it around on the bush to find the branch and chain length that made it the hardest for a squirrel to manage so they aren’t on it a lot.
Partly Works: Yet another suet feeder is hung on the post off our back steps, a few feet to the side of the kitchen window. This feeder gets visited mostly by Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Wrens and the occasional squirrel. It is the least used of the suet feeders, probably partially because it is located by the busy doorway and partially because of its hidden suet access . . .
. . . but it’s nice to look out the kitchen window while getting dinner ready and see one of the Downys on the feeder.
Feeders in the backyard at the far end of the house were more tricky to position. I’ve moved these feeders around quite a bit to try and get a good spot. I put them in a lot of wrong spots before I found what I think is the right spot.
Partly Worked: If you asked the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and the White-Breasted Nuthatches for their favorite spot for these these feeders, they would probably tell you right up next to the tree trunk. Placed here, the birds land higher in the tree and then sidle and hop down to feeder level to eat, while clinging to the tree. They loved it.
Unfortunately, the squirrels loved it too and they were on it so much that the birds rarely had a chance at it, especially as the weather got colder, so this location had to go. I may experiment with it again when the temperatures warm up and the squirrels are less crazy.
Didn’t Work: Hanging one of them from the house itself right next to the dining room window was a complete bust. Sure, it would have let me see the birds very well, but this window is in an inside corner of the house which I suspect might have made them feel trapped by two L-shaped walls and less able to get away from a predator. Not a single bird visited either a regular cage suet feeder or this house-like suet feeder when it was hung in this location.
Mostly Didn’t Work: Another spot that didn’t work well was on the arm of the pole where a platform feeder hangs. (These two cage feeders were wired together with suet in one and a nut block in the other.) In this location, it would sometimes get a Carolina Wren and very occasionally a Downy Woodpecker when other suet feeders were already in use, but even when they came there, they often got quickly spooked by the bird activity of the platform feeder which is often full of busy active birds like American Goldfinches and House Sparrows and Blue Jays. On the plus side, this spot was squirrel proof.
Didn’t Work: Yet another unsuccessful spot was hanging on a branch a few feet from a Squirrel Buster Plus feeder. I think it was the same problem – too much busy activity on the other feeder made it an unappealing place for quieter suet eating birds to dine. The squirrels could also easily climb down the chain to get the suet.
What Works: I think I have finally found the right spot for these last three feeders. It is near enough to my dining room window that I can see them, but far enough from the house that the danger of window strikes is lessened and just enough removed from other feeders that they are not spooked by by all the busier bird activity. These three feeders are popular with Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice and just recently a Pine Warbler.
I played around with their placement for quite a while, searching for just the right spots on a large tree’s branches. A larger suet or nut block plus the metal baffle can get heavy; add the weight of a bird and it can break a lighter branch. So the branch had to be fairly heavy and sturdy.
I told you about how I starling-proofed these feeders in a recent post. I’m also working to reduce squirrel activity on them as well. Anyone who has tried to thwart squirrels will know that this is a tricky process because squirrels are clever and tenacious.
I’ve hung two of these feeders (a suet block and a large nut block) from flat metal baffles that are each in turn hung from a branch using a long shepherd’s hooks and chains. The third is not baffled and is still simply hung from a thinner branch by a hook and chain. (Note: I’ve purchased hooks and chains in a variety of shapes and configurations at various times. As I move feeders around, I’ve swapped hooks around. So here, I used a combination of hooks and chains I originally purchased for hanging these and other feeders.)
Before I added the baffles, the squirrels were nimbly climbing down the hook and/or chain attaching the suet cage to the limb and hanging from the under side of the feeder cage to get at the open bottom side; they were basically cradling the feeder cage on their stomach as they dangled. The metal baffle prevents this access route. If they do climb down from the top, they can’t get around the baffle. When the squirrel lands on it, it tips just a bit so that the squirrel can’t use it as a secure perch to hang from the edge and it is too close for the squirrel to leap around the edge of the baffle onto the feeder. They usually wind up either falling off or climbing back up to the tree limb.
If they want to get to the feeder, they have to instead leap out sideways from the tree’s trunk which is a trickier prospect. Not impossible, but harder. I could only easily place these three or four feet out from the trunk and squirrels are supposed to be able to jump up to eight to ten feet horizontally. So I knew they would still be accessible to a squirrel willing to leap and dangle, but not as easily so.
On my first try at this (above), I hung a shepherd’s hook from a tree limb, then attached the baffle, then added another long hook and/or chain and then finally the feeder. This created a wide space above the baffle and another between the baffle and the feeder dangling below. I soon realized that this put the feeders too far below the baffles. If the baffle is instead very close, the squirrels have to nail the landing so that they land on the suet feeder and not on top of the baffle just above it.
So I rearranged things, using the long shepherd’s hooks then chains, then the baffle and then finally the feeder so that there was a very wide space from branch to baffle but only a couple inches from baffle to feeder. This helped, making it very challenging for them to get onto the feeders. They could do it, but it took many attempts. (I watched one squirrel make repeated tries at it for the better part of an hour and finally give up.)
As the weather is getting warmer, the feeder the squirrels are desperate to get on now is the one with the nut block. They haven’t been trying the other two. (In fact, I’ve watched one repeatedly go to the smallest unbaffled feeder, climb down the hook, haul up the feeder by the chain, sniff it to see that it is suet and not nut block, and then drop it again.)
Watching it for two days, I only saw a squirrel succeed in getting to the nut block feeder twice for short periods, but I wanted to make this particular feeder even harder for them to access. So yesterday morning, I enlisted Jim’s help to move the nut block feeder another couple of feet out and up on the same tree limb. Now the squirrels need to leap six and a half feet from the tree trunk to reach the dangling feeder. So far so good.
If That Doesn’t Work: I can’t really move the feeder out farther on the branch so if that doesn’t do it, I may alter my approach and just get a second pole and pole baffle to hold the two larger suet and nut block feeders. That way I can keep them in this general area that the birds are liking but I can position them eight to ten feet out from the tree trunk. I can still leave the flat metal baffles on top so that the pole could still be under higher tree branches. (Either way I would use the can type baffle on the pole itself.)
See? I’m as tenacious as any squirrel! I know that it may sound like a lot of trouble, but I look at it as a challenge and a puzzle to be solved. And the reward is watching a variety of birds come and visit the feeders instead of watching the food go into a squirrel’s belly.
What has worked for you in offering suet to birds in your yard? Do you use this type of commercial suet and/or nut block or do you make your own and offer it differently? Please share in the comments.
2/18/19 Update: My suet feeder strategy has evolved since I wrote this post. Be sure to check out part 2:
Other Posts About Suet Feeders
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