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Killer fat threat to wild birds

23 December 2013

The RSPB is warning that cooked turkey fat is extremely dangerous to birds and urging people not to put the leftover contents of their Christmas dinner roasting tins outside.

Many people wrongly believe that it is as beneficial to birds as other fats like lard and suet but cooked turkey fat is dangerous for birds for several reasons.

It remains soft even when cooled, meaning it could smear 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 make this virtually impossible.

The fat in roasting tins cannot be separated from other leftover elements like meat juices. This concoction can go rancid very quickly, especially if left in a warm kitchen for a while before being put outside, and form an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria. 

Birds are prone to bacterial infections at this time of year as their defenses 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.

'Please don’t put the fat from your roasting tins outside for the birds - you could be killing them with kindness'

The cooking juices from all other meats as well as turkey are equally as unsuitable for feeding to garden birds.

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 (or other Christmas joint) fat onto bird tables or mix it with seeds because they think it will give birds energy and nutrients as things like 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 this Christmas dinner is completely unsuitable, there are a range of other alternatives for a festive treat for birds. 

'Christmas cake crumbs, mince pie pastry crumbs and biscuit crumbs are all suitable Christmas Day leftovers 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, not 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.'