Home Environment and health RSPB warns: don’t feed birds cooking fat from roasts

RSPB warns: don’t feed birds cooking fat from roasts

Blue tit on a coconut shell feeder. Picture; Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images
Blue tit on a coconut shell feeder. Picture; Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images

Grease will do birds a fat lot of good by damaging feathers…

Putting cooking fat from a roast out for garden birds could kill them with kindness, warns the RSPB.

Cooled fat mixed with roasted meat juices can smear onto birds’ feathers and interfere with their waterproofing and insulation.

Birds need to keep their feathers clean and dry if they are to survive the cold winter weather, but a layer of grease makes this virtually impossible.

Fat from roasting tins can quickly go rancid if it’s left in a warm kitchen, forming the ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria, which can be fatal to birds.

European starling in winter plumage. Picture; Ben Andrew and RSPB Images
European starling in winter plumage. Picture; Ben Andrew and RSPB Images

Avoid anything salty

Birds will happily polish off leftover Christmas cake or crumbs of biscuit and mince pie, but avoid anything too salty.

RSPB wildlife advisor Katie Nethercoat said: “Many people wrongly believe that leaving cooked turkey fat outside is beneficial for birds, but in fact, it can have disastrous effects.

“Only pure fats such as lard and suet should be used to make homemade fat balls which will give birds the energy and nutrients to survive the cold winter months.”

If you’d like to treat your garden birds to their own Christmas cake, the RSPB suggests mixing birdseed, nuts and raisins together with lard, squashing it in and around a pinecone, then hanging it with string from a suitable tree.

Fieldfare perched in tree. Picture; Ian Francis and RSPB Images
Fieldfare perched in tree. Picture; Ian Francis and RSPB Images

Suitable foods to put out for birds

  • Kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese
  • Bruised fruit (not mouldy)
  • Cooked rice
  • Unsalted bits of hard fat
  • Roast potatoes
  • Dry porridge
  • Bird food such as mixed seed, sunflower seed, nyjer seed and good-quality peanuts.

Foods to avoid:

  • Dried coconut
  • Cooked porridge oats
  • Milk
  • Mouldy or salted food.
Blackbird on bird table. Picture; Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images
Blackbird on bird table. Picture; Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images

Fresh water is vital

Another essential is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Float a small ball on the surface of the water and even a light breeze will stop it from freezing over.

Ensuring your garden is filled with food now will improve your chances of having a successful Big Garden Birdwatch. The RSPB’s annual event runs from January 25-27.

To take part, spend one hour at any time over that weekend noting the number of birds to your garden or local green space. Sign up now at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

To buy bird food, feeders and other treats, visit rspbshop.co.uk/birdfoodgifts.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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