Friday, February 15

A fat lot of goodness

At this time of year when the temperatures are low, garden birds need a fat boost. Luckily for them they don't suffer from high cholesterol but the type of fat is important.

I mix lard with various bird food to make a sort of cake. You can melt the lard and mix seed etc. into the melted mixture as I have described here on my website. But recently I have started to cream the lard and mix various types of bird feed into it. The last lot that I made contained feeder seed, buggy nibblesGolden Chorus (even the hedgehogs love this) and sunflower hearts. You can also add such things as grated cheese, peanuts (whole or chopped), cake or biscuit crumbs, cooked or uncooked rice, dry porridge oats, mashed potato, raisins or pieces of fruit.
Once I had mixed the bird food into the lard I used most of it to fill up two half coconut - pressing the mixture down well so the shells were tightly packed. I only used one 250g pack of lard for all this.
On our last visit to Fairburn Ings, a nearby RSPB reserve we noticed that they had been cutting back some of their silver birch trees and in the visitors' centre they had sections of tree trunk into which they had drilled holes. For a 20 pence donation, customers could take a log and fill it with some fat mix that they supplied. We did this and I have since refilled the log using my own fat mix. 
I thought this set up may encourage the great spotted woodpecker to visit more frequently. Although this hasn't happened, other birds enjoy it as the fat disappears. I have seen a female chaffinch trying its best to hover whilst pecking at the fat. Not something you expect it to do especially when there is a ready supply of other tasty morsels much more readily available.
So why is the type of fat important? Firstly the fat needs to be a type that will become solid when cold as fats that remain fairly soft can smear the birds feathers. Soft fat cakes onto the birds beak and then is transferred to its feathers during preening. This means that the feathers can no longer provide effective insulation and waterproofing. That's very bad news for the bird.

Recycling is usually a good thing but not so if you recycle fat left after cooking meat. This isn't pure fat and will contain fragments of meat which may in turn go bad and harbour salmonella. Any salt used in cooking would also be very bad for the birds.
Not only does feeding the birds help our feathered friends but they help us by providing some garden interest when we may not be able to get out to do much gardening and from our windows there is a limited colour palette. 



Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments http://glallotments.blogspot.co.uk/ author S Garrett

24 comments:

  1. Great informative post, I bought 16 fat balls when I installed my bird feeder, but after 6 weeks I think I can say that the birds are not interested at all in them. Maybe I need to make my own balls. The sunflower seeds I bought recently seems to finally have caught some birds interest, it is being eaten from a hanging bird feeder so hurray for that!

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    1. Our birds love the fat balls that we buy Helene so I don't think it's a case of them not liking them. Are they in net bags as these are dangerous to birds and it's best to put then in a mesh feeder (like is used for peanuts) or something similar The birds do seem to be taking a while to visit you but don't give up leave the feeders where they are so they can get used to them being there.

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    2. I have the fat balls in a bought cage feeder next to a home made tray for the sunflower seeds - just a take-away tray hanging on strings. They are both hanging side by side almost touching each other. The birds, and the squirrels are eating the cheap sunflower seeds from Tesco, but not touching the expensive fat balls in the proper cage feeder. And yes I have removed the nets. Maybe the fat balls are off? They smell OK, but I have no intention of having a taste!

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    3. When we started using fat balls it took ages for the birds to be attracted to them Helene so just keep waiying

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  2. I think I need to start making my own fat cakes, it would save me a fortune. It's just that ready made ones are so much more convenient and slip easily in to the holders we have for them.

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    1. We have some bought ones too Jo which are better if we ever get warm weather as the home made ones will melt. But the half cocunuts are fairly expensive aren't they especially when the blackbirds and starlings make short work of them

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  3. The home made coconut and log bird feeders are attractive and looks like the birds are enjoying them.

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    1. Yes they do enjoy them - the robin and tits love them too if they can get near as the blackbirds and starlings tend to hog them. Funnily the goldfinches don't go near them

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  4. I also make my own fat balls for birds. Last year I bought some, but this year I decided to make them. It's easy and I can mix fat with various seeds. It's more economic to make one than to buy one. I usually hang a piece of pork fat on a string, or a plastic box with margarine. I make the fat balls with lard, because it's very malleable.

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    1. You don't feed them margarine do you Dewberry as this isn't recommended for birds as firstly it doesn't go hard enough and secondly can contain salt which is bad for birds.

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  5. I like your little log, we havn't made fat balls for a couple of years now. I do buy them so we have very well fed garden birds. I might make some to use up some of the tiny black seeds I still have in huge quantities.

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    1. We buy fat balls too, Jo but as I was making some fat cake for the log which I only need a small amount for - it seemed a shame not to reuse the coconut shells

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  6. The log is a great idea, definitely something I could do here.

    The other thing about hanging feeders like this is you can put them just in the right place for taking great photos :}

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    1. Yes it's good to have the feeders near a window Bilbo - my aim now is to get some more 'natural; shots and also some better shots of the tit family - not to mention things like nuthatches.

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  7. Avian gastronomy at its best!

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    1. The birds seem to think so Mark

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  8. We used to fill margarine cartons in the same way but now just use the little balls - we get through a couple of tubs each winter.

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    1. We go through loads of fat balls too Elaine. A bucket doesn't last long. We buy the refill bags regularly

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  9. feeding the birds is great; important for them and fun for us = win/win project )

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  10. What a great idea! I seldom see people feed the bird in garden here....

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    1. I'm guessing that your birds can find plenty of food all year round, Malar.

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  11. We have done this since we were children with our parents...we used to put it into plastic bowls and suspend them from the washing line. We use dripping as it is harder than lard so if we got strong sun one day it didn't turn them into a puddle!!

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    1. I don't pop home made ones out when it is sunny but do put out the bought coconut halves which don't melt. Nowadays they don'y like us to use dripping as it is supposed to risk spreading salmonella to the birds - used dripping that is/

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