Bill’s Bark Butter Recipe (2024)

I call it a “Bird Magnet”, especially for some birds that aren’t too interested in the sunflower and thistle seeds we put in most of our dozen bird feeders. Bark butter is a great addition to the regular birdfeed seeds and it didn’t take long for some of our more unusual birds to find it. Now they even seem to prefer it to the store-bought suet cakes we also offer.

Over the course of the last 15 years, I have developed a recipe for my “Bird Magnet” bark butter. About 15 years ago, when Jan and I were at a Wild Birds Unlimited store near Columbus, we purchased a small container of what was labeled “Bark Butter”. The birds loved it! It didn’t last long. But since it was a bit pricey at $12 for a small amount, I didn’t want to buy more on a regular basis. On the day I used up the very last “Bark Butter”, I decided to figure out what was in it. I examined the mixture very carefully and, of course, tasted it. From that, I created my own bark butter recipe and have been refining it ever since. The results have been fantastic!

These are the ingredients: 2.5 – 3 lb beef suet; 2 lb 8 oz (large jar) peanut butter (creamy or crunchy); and about 10 C cornmeal. To find suet nowadays, if your local grocery store doesn’t stock it, talk with a real butcher at an independent butcher shop or other such outlet. Jan buys it from the farmer who sells us our pasture-raised beef. The peanut butter and cornmeal can be any brand, but I try to avoid unnecessary ingredients in the peanut butter.

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Here’s what I do. First, render (melt) the suet in a large pot, covered with a lid, over LOW heat. The rendering can take 2-3 hours or more. Don’t be in a hurry! If the heat is too high, the suet will begin to burn and your kitchen will soon be full of smoke and the smell of burnt suet. Opening the windows will eventually get rid of the smoke and, after about a week, the smell will dissipate. To Jan’s chagrin, I have made that mistake. I usually make my bark butter while she is shopping (so the kitchen is free for a long time) and one day she came home to quite a surprise.

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There will be parts of the suet that will not completely melt and they should be removed as soon as possible after the fat around them is melted off. If you wait too long, they will begin to burn and yep — smoke and burnt suet smell (not quite as much as rendering on a high heat). Again, I know because I’ve made that mistake, too.

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The next two steps are pretty straight-forward. Turn the heat off and move the pot of rendered suet from the hot burner. Add large spoonfuls of peanut butter, stirring after each several spoonfuls, until all the peanut butter and liquid suet are mixed together. Next add the cornmeal, a cupful at a time, stirring after each cupful, until about 10 cups have been added. As you might guess, the recipe is somewhat flexible depending on what you have available and the texture you want in your final product. Don’t be surprised to see the cornmeal settling to the bottom.

Next I pour the slightly-cooled mixture into the two containers pictured below, being sure the settling cornmeal is appropriately divided between the two. The larger container is a gallon milk jug with part of the top area cut out, leaving the handle.

I set the containers in a sink containing a couple inches of cold water and ice. This will help the bark butter solidify more quickly. Check the bark butter every 5 minutes or so and stir as needed to spread the cornmeal. The ingredients will separate if you don’t stir the mix periodically, but once the bark butter is almost solidified it won’t have to be stirred. (Be sure to remove the spoon between stirrings when it’s almost cool!)

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I use the Bill’s Bird Magnet bark butter in two ways. Most of it is used simply as a bird feeder food to attract birds for Jan’s and my enjoyment (and Project Feederwatch counting). The feeder is a log with holes drilled 3/4 to 1 inch into it to hold the bark butter.

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A number of birds visit our bark butter feeder.

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There are not many easy ways to attract Eastern Bluebirds, but during extreme winter weather they regularly visit our bark butter feeder. Once they discover how much they like it, they begin visiting more often, especially later in the winter when their natural food sources are dwindling. (Note on feeding mealworms to Eastern Bluebirds: knowledgeable sources now say that offering mealworms continuously will skew the nutrition of bluebirds, so limiting the amount of mealworms offered each day will encourage the bluebirds to consume a good variety of nutrients.)

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The other way I use my bark butter is on two large tree snags I have buried upright in the ground specifically for my bird photography. The following photos show how I set up the snags.

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The snags are large branches that fell from a big Black Locust Tree in our back meadow.

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In the winter, on cold, snowy days, I spread bark butter into selected places in the bark of the snags. Then I set my camera on a tripod in the house and shoot through our large bird picture windows.

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The photos below are a few that I have set up with the bark butter. The bark butter doesn’t really show, but the birds are perfectly positioned for the camera.

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My bark butter stays well all winter long in our barely-heated sun porch. When the days get warmer in the spring and I stop feeding birds so much, I put any leftover bark butter in the refrigerator to wait for the cold, late fall weather when birds will again need the extra nutrition and calories of bark butter and we will enjoy watching them.

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Bill’s Bark Butter Recipe (2024)
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