Serve up a healthy Christmas dinner for garden birds


The RSPB is reminding people to put the leftover contents of their roasting tins in the bin and not on their feeders, as the meat fat can be extremely dangerous for birds.

Turkey fat is a real no-no. Unlike 'pure' fats like lard or suet, cooked turkey fat remains soft and can easily smear onto birds' feathers, ruining their water-proofing and insulating properties. Birds must keep their plumage clean if they are to survive cold winter weather and a layer of turkey fat will make this impossible.

When mixed with other meat juices, the fat in roasting tins can quickly go rancid if it's left in a warm kitchen before being put outside. This forms an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other bacteria, which could prove fatal to birds at this time of the year as their defences are low and their energy levels depleted with the cold.

Often people will add salt to meat before cooking; however, high levels of salt are poisonous to garden birds, and so the RSPB urges people not to leave out cooked fats from any meat on the bird table this Christmas.

But you can still serve up a festive treat for your birds. In fact, additional feeding at this time of year is crucial for many species. Some Christmas Day leftovers which are suitable for garden birds include cake crumbs, mince pie pastry crumbs and biscuit crumbs, while bird seed mixes and suet balls are great for fattening birds up for the winter months and providing them with the nutrients they need.

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Great Tit (Photo: Chris Gomersall).

"Many people believe that leaving cooked turkey fat outside is beneficial for birds, but it can have disastrous effects for our feathered friends," RSPB Wildlife Advisor Ian Hayward commented. "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."

"Putting out some of the recommended festive treats will encourage species such as Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens into the garden just in time for the Big Garden Birdwatch in January."

To dispose of meat fat, the RSPB strongly recommends leaving it to cool and putting it in the bin, rather than pouring it down the sink. Water companies are also urging people to dispose of meat fat this way.

Rachel Dyson, Keep It Clear campaign manager at Anglian Water, said: "Our advice to anyone cooking Christmas dinner is to let the fat cool and then scrape it into the bin, or use some newspaper to scoop it up and put in a food caddy or composter. You'll be saving yourself a lot of inconvenience as well as protecting your homes and the local environment from nasty sewage spills."

Written by: RSPB