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Don't cause bird fat-alities

Last modified: 23 December 2011

Blue tit in snow, Aberdeenshire

The wildlife charity is worried about people feeding cooked turkey fat to birds as it is extremely dangerous and could even kill them.

After Christmas dinner, many people put the leftover contents of roasting tins outside for birds, wrongly believing it’s as good for them as other fats like lard and suet.

They pour the fat onto bird tables or mix it with seed thinking it will give them extra energy and much needed nutrients.

However, cooked turkey fat is completely unsuitable for birds for several reasons:

·         Even when cooled, it stays soft which means it could smear onto birds’ feathers and damage water proofing and insulating qualities.

·         Because of its softness, popular ‘bird cake’ cannot be made with cooked turkey fat.  It will not harden to hold its shape when mixed with seeds.

·         Meat juices and other left over liquids mix together with the fats in the roasting tins and can go rancid very quickly.  This becomes an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria.

·         Salt is very bad for birds and many people rub turkey joints liberally with it to crisp the skin.  High levels of salt are toxic to birds.

Birds are prone to bacterial infections at this time of year as their defences and energy levels are low because of the cold.

Kirsi Peck, RSPB Wildlife Adviser, says: “Please, please don’t use fat from roasting tins to feed garden birds. It’s great that so many people want to try and give birds extra treats but in this case you could be killing them with kindness.

“If you want to use the fat from your Christmas meat, just cut off the fatty bits BEFORE cooking.  Uncooked fat from any meat is perfectly good bird food and very suitable for making bird cakes. 

“With all the fattening things people eat over Christmas, this is an easy way to trim up and help birds survive.”

There are loads of other suitable festive leftovers that can be fed to garden birds.

The RSPB recommends Christmas scraps like Christmas cake crumbs, mince pie pastry crumbs and biscuit crumbs. Other suitable foods for birds include mild grated cheese, cooked or uncooked rice, dry porridge oats, cooked potatoes and fruit.

RSPB’s Val Osborne added: “The cooking juices from all other meats are a equally complete no no.  It’s not just turkey fat, so if you’re branching out with your Christmas feast please avoid putting any meat juices outside for the birds.”

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.

This is an opinion shared by water companies too.  John Clare from Anglian Water said: “Sewer blockages caused by fat, oils and grease from cooking are a year-round problem for water companies, but it is made worse at Christmas.  

“A turkey big enough to feed six people produces around three quarters of a pint of fat; In the Anglian Water region alone some 250 tonnes of fat from roast turkey dinners is expected to go down customers’ drains – the equivalent of nearly a million blocks of butter.

“When people pour fat down the sink it quickly cools in the sewers, sets hard and creates incredibly hard-to-shift blockages. That can mean sewage is forced out into homes and gardens, causing misery at what should be a happy time of year.

“This year, please keep the fat from your Christmas dinner out of the drains and off the bird table. Wait for it to cool and then dispose of it in the bin.”

To shop for RSPB bird care products including suet balls and feeders, visit

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