In the column Since You Asked in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our January-February 2017 issue:
Over several days in July, I spotted an American Robin clinging to the side of our suet cage, cutting out a piece of suet. It flew to the ground and fed the food to a young robin. I had never seen this before. Have you? — Marc Howell, Frederick, Maryland
Yes. I have heard of robins feeding suet to nestlings and fledglings, although the behavior is not reported frequently. It is not unusual for robins to come to suet feeders in winter, but few people leave suet out in summer, so it may be harder to observe adults feeding it to their young.
Suet is a decent energy source and shouldn’t harm the young robins. However, true suet (raw beef fat) can become rancid quickly and shouldn’t be put out in hot weather. Readily available suet cakes made of rendered fat tend to melt more slowly and are a better choice in summer.
Still, I would be cautious in very hot weather. American Robins probably most often encounter pieces of suet on the ground while foraging on lawns and in gardens, but your bird may get sticky suet residue on its feathers while visiting the suet cage. This can be damaging to the feathers. My advice is to use plain suet cakes (to prevent spoilage of other ingredients), to keep the suet cage clean, and to avoid putting out suet during heat waves. — Julie Craves
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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