With the recent cold snap our poor birdy population are probably feeling it. To give your feathered friends a helping hand this month pop out some extra food. You can attract many birds by putting out fat balls and you can easily make them at home, varying them to your local bird species by choosing different seeds and fruit to appeal to different species.
Birds have very high metabolisms and demand high amounts of energy to maintain their daily activities. Fat is a great way to help them replenish the energy stores lost during nesting, migration, and cold weather. It’s also a great way to lure bird species to your backyard that might otherwise ignore your seed feeders.
Basic Fruit Ball Recipe
450g to 700g fat or animal suet
3/4 cup millet (red and white mixed, if possible)
1/3 cup cracked corn
3/4 cup bird seeds
3/4 cup raisins or crab apples
1 to 2 tablespoons of honey (optional)
mesh bags, or small plastic containers (margarine, sour cream, yogurt, etc.) waxed paper glass jar
Chop the fat into small pieces and melt in a saucepan over low heat until it turns to liquid. Once the fat is melted, strain and remove any floating particles, including any remaining traces of meat.
Let the liquid fat cool slightly and stir in the other ingredients. Don’t worry about exact measurements. Just add in whatever you think is needed.
Line small plastic containers with waxed paper and pour in the mix.
Refrigerate containers until they start to harden, and then store them in the freezer until ready for use. For ball-shaped feeders, remove the suet from their containers while still slightly warm and shape it into balls with your hands. Gently poke a hole through the centre of the ball with a chopstick and thread with string to hang it up with. Place the balls in plastic bags and store them in the freezer. Fruit: If you (or perhaps your neighbours) grow cherry or other fruit trees, collect fruit with insect holes or bird damage, and cut it into halves or quarters. Other good choices for fruits include native berries like elderberries, mountain ash, and hawthorn. Store fruit in the freezer until you make the suet. It can be added to recipes while still frozen.
Fat: If you eat meat, one way to acquire fat for suet recipes is to trim the excess from meats before cooking them, or save the drippings. Freeze fat in labeled plastic bags until you are ready to use it. Scraps of fat can also be sourced from local butchers. It’s also available in the meat section of some grocery stores. Experts disagree about whether birds digest pork fat as easily as beef fat, but most agree that lard and vegetable shortening are not good substitutes.
Offering Suet to Backyard Birds: Fat cakes can be set out for birds while still frozen. Pop it out of its container and if necessary, cut it into smaller pieces before dropping them into a mesh bag (or wire suet cage). Hang your feeders from tree branches at least 5 to 6 feet off the ground. You may also want to try smearing the suet directly on the bark of trees. This will be especially welcome to bird species accustomed to clinging onto bark in search of insects.