23/12/2013
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Don't feed the birds with turkey fat

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Robins and other garden birds are better off being fed with standard bird foods or pure fats. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).
Robins and other garden birds are better off being fed with standard bird foods or pure fats. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).
The RSPB has warned that cooked turkey fat is dangerous to birds and has asked people to not put their leftovers on their bird tables and in their feeders.

The society says that many people wrongly believe that cooked turkey fat is beneficial to birds like lard and suet, but in fact it is dangerous for a number of reasons. Turkey fat remains soft even when cooled, meaning it can get onto birds' feathers and ruin their water-proofing and insulating qualities. Birds need clean, dry feathers to survive the cold and a layer of grease would prevent this.

The fat in roasting tins cannot be separated from other leftover elements like meat juices, which means that it can go rancid very quickly, especially if left in a warm kitchen for a while before being put outside. This then forms an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria. Birds are prone to bacterial infections at this time of year as their defences are low and their energy levels depleted with the cold.

Also, many people add other ingredients to a joint of meat before roasting, including rubbing it liberally with salt in order to crisp the skin; high levels of salt are toxic to garden birds. The cooking juices from all other meats are equally as unsuitable for feeding to garden birds, for the same reasons.

Richard James, RSPB Wildlife Adviser, said: "Please don’t put the fat from your roasting tins outside for the birds - you could be killing them with kindness.

"People pour turkey fat or other cooking juices onto bird tables or mix it with seeds because they think it will give birds energy and nutrients, just as fat balls do. But this is a completely different kind of fat and could have catastrophic effects. Only pure fats such as lard and suet should be used to make homemade fat balls.

"However additional feeding at this time of year can be the difference between life and death, particularly for some of the smaller garden birds, and although Christmas dinner is unsuitable, there are a range of other alternatives for a festive treat for birds. The crumbs from Christmas cakes, mince pies and biscuits are all suitable, and mild grated cheese, cooked or uncooked rice, breakfast cereals, cooked potatoes and fruit will also provide vital energy. There are also lots of great bird food options available to buy, such as table mix, niger seed and sunflower hearts."

The RSPB recommends that the best way to dispose of meat fat is to leave it to cool down and put it in the bin rather than pour it down the sink, a message echoed by the water companies. Ciaran Nelson, a spokesperson for Anglian Water, said: "It’s simple – if you pour fat down the drain, you risk flooding your home and garden with sewage, not to mention the threat of damaging pollution leaking into the countryside. Cooking fats, oils and greases washed down the plughole are responsible for thousands of avoidable sewer blockages each year. The problem gets significantly worse at Christmas.

"Warm fats slide down the sink easily but turn into rock-hard, foul-smelling 'fatbergs' when they cool. They bind with things like wipes, nappies and sanitary products, which also shouldn’t be flushed into the sewers. These fatbergs block sewers causing them to back up and overflow. Blockages like this are horrible at any time of year, but the extra cost and hassle is especially unwelcome during the holidays. It doesn’t make for a very merry Christmas."
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