Whether you’re buying suet cakes or mixed seed blends, bird foods are not created equal.
Start with those suet blocks. Most stores stock about a dozen kinds. I found myself attracted to one called “Berry Blast.” Birds that like bugs switch to berries in winter. Seemed obvious, I thought, that this suet cake offers those birds the best of both worlds: suet substituting for bugs merged with berries.
Then I read the nutrition label. The “berry” part came from artificial berry flavoring. Really? Artificial flavoring? As if birds choose foods for taste?
But the ingredients that followed, in order, weren’t so good: corn, milo, wheat, millet, black-oil sunflower seed, and, last, that artificial berry flavoring. Everything listed except sunflower seed is basically filler. Almost no songbirds eat milo or wheat, so experts call those grains “fillers.” Cracked corn and millet attract birds like grackles and blackbirds, and non-native house sparrows and starlings. Is that what you want eating your suet?
Manufacturers add “fillers” for a reason. They can offer the same familiar-sized suet cake but with less pricey ingredients. Its cheaper price attracts customers. The result: higher per-cake manufacturer’s profit and less nutrition for birds. My personal observations suggest that birds take second place to profit.
What are we buying, then, if we choose low-fat suet blocks? We’re buying a marketing strategy. The product name sounds great, but the product isn’t. Be wary about all those different suet-cake varieties. Labels reveal they lack the variety the names suggest, and most lack nutrition birds need.
Now, let’s finish reading the label. The product has 4% protein and 30% fat—not great for birds, but probably for a different reason than you might suspect. In winter, birds need a diet rich in fat. They don’t have to worry about clogged arteries or weight gain; instead, they worry about surviving and keeping warm. Fat keeps birds warm.
Suet cakes should contain at least 90% fat. Cakes labeled “pure suet” surpass that level.
Label-reading extends also to mixed seed blends. One inexpensive bag labeled “Deluxe Blend” has as its first three ingredients milo, millet, and wheat. Fat content is only 4%. Did you notice the deceptive name? What’s “deluxe” about it? Other cheap blends include “grain products.” What’s that? Think “floor sweepings.”
On the other hand, a more expensive blend called “Nut and Fruit” has as its first ingredients black-oil sunflower, peanuts, hulled sunflower chips, and mixed feed nuts. Fat content hits 42%. But it’s pricey.
Finally, how do blends compare nutritionally with non-blended seeds? Safflower seed registers at 29% fat. Black-oil sunflower seed measures a similar 25% fat. Feed no-mess sunflower hearts, and fat content soars to 40%. But sunflower hearts cost more than in-the-hull seed.