Don’t kill birds with kindness this Christmas or over the winter months

December 23, 2014

in Birds, Gardening For Wildlife

Soft fat clings to bird’s feathers

Many of us derive great pleasure by attracting and feeding wild birds to our gardens. I am aware that fat is vital for many birds during these cold months. But I had never, other than not feeding hydrogenated fat, given it much thought. I know pure fats such as lard and suet have been used for many years. These are fats I have used. So what other fats are there that can be potentially bad for birds? This RSPB article contains some information about feeding certain fats. I feel it is most important for wildlife gardeners and people whom feed birds to read this for themselves.


Robin on bird table

The RSPB is urging people to put on a festive feast to fatten up garden birds this Christmas, but to avoid leaving out the potentially dangerous leftover contents of their Christmas dinner roasting tins.

Cooked turkey fat is extremely dangerous to birds for several reasons and can have catastrophic consequences for your garden visitors.

The fat remains soft even when cooled and it could easily smear onto birds’ feathers and ruin their water-proofing and insulating qualities. This layer of grease would make it virtually impossible for birds to keep their feathers clean and dry, which is essential if they are to survive the cold winter weather.

The fat in roasting tins can quickly go rancid when leftover with other meat juices in a warm kitchen before being put outside. This forms an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria, which could prove fatal to birds at this time of the year.

It is a popular tradition to add other ingredients to a joint of meat before roasting, including rubbing salts in order to crisp the skin and to add extra flavour. High levels of salt are toxic to garden birds (my italics) so the RSPB urges people not to leave the cooked fats from any meat on bird tables this Christmas.

Amy Colvin from RSPB Northern Ireland said: “It’s extremely important that people don’t put the fat from roasting tins outside for birds this Christmas. Although it may seem like a good thing to do, you could be killing them with kindness.

“Often people believe they’re helping birds by pouring the fat from Christmas joints onto bird tables or mixing it with bird seed, but this is a completely different kind of fat and could 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 winter cold.”

However, the RSPB is encouraging people to put on a festive feast for visiting garden birds, as additional feeding at this time of the year can be the difference between life and death.

Amy added: “Bird seed table mix, suet balls and other nibbles are great at providing birds with the vital energy and nutrients that are so important for them. Additionally, there is no harm in slipping in a few festive treats such as Christmas cake crumbs, mince pie pasty crumbs and biscuit crumbs to give them an extra boost. And if you do find yourself with a little extra time over the holidays and want to cook up a festive feast for your garden birds from scratch, then the RSPB’s website has a selection of recipes you can follow.”

Providing shelter for birds at this time of the year is also hugely beneficial. By carefully planting dense hedges or putting up a next box provides the perfect spot for birds to roost in and shelter from the weather.

For more information about how you can give nature a home in your outside space visit

Article here

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marian December 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Thanks for info George, I will pass on to neighbours who put out for the birds. Numerous long tailed tits feasting on the peanut butter mix in the empty coconut shell, tend to refill every other day. Also have two male pheasants and their harem regularly picking up seeds from The feeders, lovely sight . Have a merry Christmas and New Year George.


nurturingnature December 23, 2014 at 10:24 pm

And you too Marian! Best wishes, George


Sue Carter January 15, 2018 at 12:36 pm

I have recently changed my four feeder for a six feeder – the new one is bright green, the old one black. For some reason the birds won’t use the new feeder. It’s been four days now and doesn’t make sense as I was refilling daily. What shall I do please? Sue Carter


nurturingnature January 15, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Birds do not like change and in particular, may give a new feeder a wide berth for some time, even when it is filled with the same food! Over time though they will lose their fear and go back to feeding on it as they gain more confidence in the feeder and it is still safe to feed on it. I have made a film re this concerning a new type of feeder and how some birds react to it. I will post it on my website when I have some spare time HTH, Cheers, George


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