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Levin: Concentrated Energy

03/30/10 5:55PM By Ted Levin
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(HOST) As spring advances by fits and starts, commentator Ted Levin is still providing suet for the birds who visit his back yard.  

(LEVIN) Fat, of course, is a source of concentrated energy - something our feathered friends still need as temperatures rise and fall with the changing season.

So every couple of weeks - as I have done all winter - I pick up suet from the butcher-counter at the Hanover Coop. There's no charge, which makes it affordable for me to continue providing it for the birds that chip away at the hard, dry, white flecks of beef fat, kept fresh by the cold. We hang the suet in a wire mesh container mid-way up a white ash, high enough to be beyond the reach of our dogs.
    
This winter, we fed chickadees, titmice, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, male and female downy and hairy woodpeckers, and blue jays, whose catholic diet includes fat, cracked corn, chicken pellets, black-oil sunflower seeds, and assorted tidbits from our compost pile.

During past winters, we've had crows, a pileated woodpecker, and brown creepers visit our suet, while various friends in the Upper Valley have played host to short- and long-tailed weasels, mink, and even black bears.
   
Of course, if there's a chance of bears visiting your feeder, take it down before they knock it down. 
   
In the pre-Columbian woodland, deer and moose carcasses - mostly from wolf and catamount kills - were the most reliable source of suet. And though the big predators are long gone today, coyotes occasionally bring down deer.

So do cars.
   
Recently, I watched six bald eagles along the east bank of the Connecticut River feast on a deer carcass, likely a casualty of nearby Route 5. The eagles roosted in a silver maple and picked at the deer for days until all that was left was the skull and a rack of ribs.  On a pond along my running route, at least twenty ravens fed on a carcass; and in the woods farther down the road another one was claimed by an adult red-tailed hawk.

Through the years, I've noticed many mammals feeding on deer and moose carcasses - red and gray foxes, coyotes, bobcat, fisher, opossum, raccoons, bear, weasels,
shrews of many species, even red squirrels.
   
In fact, fishers often give birth close to a carcass. The meat and fat is a windfall of protein and energy for the mother, who doesn't have to leave her vulnerable kits unattended for long. And when the mother fisher comes into heat again shortly after giving birth, her new mate will also be rewarded with a meal.
   
Suet is an important menu item for many birds and mammals, so I guess I'll keep stepping in until the big predators return.
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