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, although blackbirds and thrushes also like them, and starlings will even hang from them and tuck in.

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 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. 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.

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.

Measure 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. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little, then divide the mixture into lumps the size of the fat ball required and roll into tight balls, cover them with plastic or cling film, and place in the refrigerator to set hard. Once set hard they are ready to be put in the garden. 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 up by. If you have previously bought fat balls, recycle the nets when empty to put your home-made ones in. Onions are often bought in similar [larger] 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 and seed mixture after drilling a small hole and passing a string through to hang it up with. The coconut shell protects the food from rain, and the birds have no difficulty hanging upside down to feed.

Another method of providing a wild bird fat ball, is to use containers such as yogurt cartons, and pour the mixture of scraps, seeds and warmed fat into them, remembering to fix a piece of string for hanging inside first, then leave in the fridge for a few hours and they can then 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 either be free or very cheap as they're a waste product. Butchers also sell suet which can be used in the same way.

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