Wild Bird Seed - fat balls

Fatballs are a very popular food for wild birds, especially tits, finches and sparrows, who cling to the outside while tucking into the combined fat and seeds.

Animal food shops and suppliers sell fat balls; you can buy them singly or in tubs of different sizes, the largest holding 20+ balls. They usually come in plastic mesh bags which can be easily hung from tree branches, nails, bird tables etc. They provide a really necessary addition to the diet of most wild birds during winter.

Although they are easy to buy, you may prefer to make your own from leftovers, which will work out cheaper than even the best bulk buys and helps use up waste food if you have no dog. Add some bird seed to the mix as well and you have a highly nutritious winter feed.

Method of making your own fat balls

Put the bird seed and scraps together with the fat and mix them thoroughly. Ensure that the scraps are cut up into small pieces and that there are no large lumps. There are no hard and fast rules, you can make it up as you go along, but...

Ingredients for making fat balls

A mix of seeds, fruit and scraps of bread, cake or biscuits, mixed with some solid fat like lard, vegetable oil won't work as it doesn't set hard and you need this to hold everything together.

Roughly m easure or estimate the ingredients, using about half as much fat as the other ingredients added together. Cut fat into rough lumps and heat slowly on low heat. Make sure the fat doesn't boil, just warm it enough to melt and mix with the other ingredients until they stick together. Once cooled a bit, divide the mixture into lumps the size of the fat ball required using a large spoon and roll each into tight balls in your hands, wrap them with plastic or cling film, and put in the refrigerator to set hard. They are then ready to be put in the garden for the birds to enjoy. If you have some plastic mesh or something similar, put them in small pieces and tie the ends together, leaving a length of string to hang them by. If you have previously bought fat balls, recycle the nets when empty to put your home-made ones in. Onions and Satsumas are often bought in similar plastic nets, what better way to recycle them than to use them for your home-made fat balls!

Coconuts can be used in a similar way, cut the coconut in half and fill each half with the fat, fruit and seed mixture after drilling a small hole through the top of the hemisphere and passing a string through to hang it with. The coconut shell thus protects the food from rain much as a sunflower head does, and the birds have no difficulty hanging upside down from the rough husk to feed from the contents.

Another method of providing a wild bird fat ball, is to use containers such as yogurt cartons, pouring the mixture of scraps, seeds and warmed fat into them, remembering to insert a piece of string for hanging inside first [curl it round a bit to give best chance of grip], then leave in the fridge for a few hours, when they can be taken out of the pots and hung up. The pots being re-used for the next batch.

If you don't eat meat, and therefore don't have fat leftovers, you could visit a local butcher and ask for some excess fat bits which have been trimmed off. These will usually be free as they're a waste product they have to dispose of. Butchers also sell suet which can be used in the same way to make fat balls.






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