Watching the birds fluttering between bare branches in our gardens is one of the best perks of winter.
But during these colder months, birds need a lot more nourishment to keep them warm and to maintain the energy they need to survive the winter months.
Fat cakes are the perfect remedy, keeping you safe in the knowledge that your feathered friends remain healthy and happy, and ensuring that they continue to visit your garden day after day.
Of course, you can easily purchase fat cakes from garden centres and pet shops, but DIY fat cakes are quick and easy and cheap to make, not to mention a fun activity to share with friends and family and kids in particular, will enjoy getting stuck in and learning about what the birds find tasty!
Here’s what this guide will cover:
- Foods birds like to eat.
- Foods birds should never eat.
- How to make fat cakes.
What’s on the menu?
You’ll find that lots of leftover kitchen scraps are perfect for fat cakes, so save any waste ingredients in your kitchen as you go and keep them ready for when you want to start.
We’ve picked out some of the best ingredients but if you have food that’s not on our list be sure to check online to make sure it’s safe for birds to consume.
Lard is, unsurprisingly, a key ingredient for fat cakes, as it provides the much needed fat birds urgently need in winter whilst also helping to bind the ingredients together. Beef of vegetable suet can also be used for the same effect.
This is a delicious and nutritious treat for birds: High in fat, with tonnes of calories to give plenty of energy and help them stay warm in the chilly weather.
If you have birdseed leftover from summer then this will be a perfect addition to your fat cakes. Alternatively, you could buy bags of bird-friendly seeds from most supermarkets (if you’re peckish, most are great for humans too!)
If you grew sunflowers this year and had the foresight to save the seeds, these are a perfect addition as well, as birds absolutely love them.
Not just a firm favourite among us humans, birds will readily snap up a bit of cheese. Mild flavours like cheddar are most suitable and when grated will be easy to combine with your fat cake mixture. Stale or hard cheese is fine but soft or mouldy cheeses should not be offered to birds at as it is hard for them to digest and has fewer health benefits.
Sultanas, Raisins and Currents
These are all excellent food sources for both fruit-eating and softbill birds such as blackbirds, song thrushes and starlings. Packed with natural sugars and vitamins, these dried fruits will give your winged pals the extra boost they need.
Waste not, want not! Scoop up any bread and cake crumbs, shake out your biscuit tin, and sweep up the dried oats that escaped when you were making your morning porridge. All these bits and bobs are packed with nutrition and will help bulk up your mixture so there’s plenty to go around.
Hopefully you don’t just have these lying around your kitchen but they are cheap to buy from pet shops and provide the perfect balance of protein, fat, and fibre.
Mealworms are particularly attractive to bluebirds and other insect-eating birds and, being so high in nutritional value, are a highly recommended ingredient for your DIY fat cake.
Food to Avoid when making Fat Cakes
There are some foods that should never be fed to birds. Some foods can be both inwardly and outwardly damaging to these delicate beauties, so we’ve put together a list of absolute no-no’s.
Be sure to check anything we haven’t mentioned before adding it to your list of ingredients to ensure your fat cake will keep your feathery customers healthy and happy.
Avoid turkey fat or any fat from roasting tins as they can coat the birds’ feathers, preventing them from being able to fly as well as spreading harmful diseases. Stick with lard or suet as previously mentioned to keep your fat cake safe for consumption.
Desiccated coconut must never be fed to birds because it can swell in their stomachs and will often cause death. That being said, if you don’t want to deprive your birdy buddies of experiencing a taste of the tropics, you can substitute your lard with coconut oil: High in saturated fat, which will help keep them nice and warm.
Although the occasional salted peanut is not likely to be a big problem for birds, you should avoid using them in bulk. Birds cannot process large amounts of salt in their diets and having too much can lead to renal failure and other health issues. To avoid this stick with roasted peanuts – they’re perfectly safe and birds are nuts for them!
Dried oats are perfectly healthy for birds but cooked oats are a no-go. When the oats are cooked they become glutinous and can ten harden around birds’ beaks preventing them from continuing to feed and take care of their feathers. So stick to the dry stuff and keep the feathers from flying.
Fat Cake Cooking Method
So now that you have gathered your chosen ingredients, it’s time to get started. When preparing a new recipe for humans a step by step method is key, and fat cakes for birds are just the same!
What you will need:
- Your chosen ingredients.
- Empty yoghurt pots.
- String or twine.
- Some hungry birds.
The best ratio for these fat cakes is one part fat, two parts dry mixture.
Begin by mixing all your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
Now melt the lard or suet in a saucepan on low heat, and slowly add the dry mixture.
Stir well until the fat has been fully absorbed and the mixture sticks together.
If you are substituting fat with coconut oil you don’t need to use heat, just slowly add the coconut oil to your dry mixture one tablespoon at a time, until your mixture is good and sticky.
Tie a large knot at one end of your string or twine, make a hole in the bottom of your yoghurt pot and thread the string through it.
Spoon the mixture into the yoghurt pot, packing it down firmly until the pot is full.
Place the pot in the fridge overnight to set. If you have opted to use coconut oil then these should be placed in the freezer.
Once set, peel or cut away the yoghurt pot and voila – your fat cake is ready!
If you’ve made several batches you can freeze them until you need them.
Feed the birds! Find the perfect spot in your garden, hang your cake and watch your feathered friends enjoy their feast.
And there you have it…
Fat cakes are the perfect way to encourage birds to visit your garden, as well as giving them a helping hand in the cold, lean winter months.
What’s more, many studies suggest that birds are able to recognise human faces and voices, and knowing that their human friends are bringing them fat cakes will ensure they visit you more and more frequently.
So, save up those empty yoghurt pots and scraps of food and give the birds a fighting chance this winter. No need for baking, get fat cake making!