We all know that Christmas is a time for feasting and fattening up and the same is true for our garden birds.
But, as with any dinner guest, it's essential to adhere to their dietary requirements - and that doesn't include turkey fat!
Keeping warm for winter
In winter, birds need high-energy food to keep themselves warm. And with insects and natural food sources in short supply, laying on a festive spread for your feathered residents is a great idea.
Your birds will happily polish off leftover Christmas cake or crumbs of biscuit and mince pie, but cooked turkey fat and anything too salty can be dangerous.
The fat in roasting tins can quickly go rancid if it’s left in a warm kitchen before being put outside. This forms the ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria and, just like people, this can be fatal to birds.
Plus, cooled fat can easily smear onto birds' feathers and interfere with their waterproofing and insulation. Birds need to keep their feathers clean and dry if they are to survive the cold winter weather, but a layer of grease would make this virtually impossible.
No to turkey fat!
Charlotte Ambrose, who works in our Wildlife Enquiries team, says: “Many people wrongly believe that leaving cooked turkey fat outside is beneficial for birds, but in fact it can have disastrous effects. 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 birds such as blackbirds, robins and wrens into the garden just in time for the Big Garden Birdwatch in January.”
Treat your birds
If you'd like to treat your garden birds to their own Christmas cake, mix bird seed, nuts and raisins together with lard, squash it into an upturned yoghurt pot, then hang it with string from a suitable tree. Here’s the recipe.
So the message is to lay on a festive feed for your garden birds, but avoid the fat.
Every morning, I'm cheered up by the bright yellow leaves on the silver birch tree outside my window. When they're lit up against a blue sky, they're especially gorgeous. But with this weather, I'm not sure for how much longer they'll still be on the tree. Never mind - I'll make the most of them while they're there.
My view isn't quite as glamorous as this one, captured at Llyn Padarn in north Wales, but it makes me happy and that's good enough!
Lots of our trees are looking fabulous at the moment - which is your favourite?
Happy Stir-up Sunday! This is the traditional day to start making your Christmas cake and pudding in preparation for the big day. But why not start getting prepared for another big day – Big Garden Birdwatch – by making some cakes for your birds too?
Your robins, blue tits, chaffinches and more will love this quick and simple recipe:
The earlier you start preparing for your Big Garden Birdwatch, the better it will be. And now is the perfect time. Here are our five top tips:
1. Get to know your garden birds
Can you tell a female chaffinch from a house sparrow, or a dunnock? Is that a blue tit or a coal tit? Check out our bird identifier and you’ll soon become more familiar with the birds in your garden. It’s the first step to really noticing the different ways different species behave. The more you notice, the more pleasurable the experience is.
2. Find out what your birds like to eat
The different birds visiting your garden all have their own tastes and needs. Some will only eat from a hanging feeder, while some prefer their food on a bird table or scattered on the ground. Maybe you already know that blue tits like peanuts, but did you know that robins love grated cheese, and that blackbirds will goggle up dog food?
Check out our feeding advice pages to find out everything from which equipment to get, to which kitchen scraps you can put out.
And then head over to the RSPB online shop, where you’ll find the very best quality bird food and feeders.
3. Remember the water!
Birds need to drink and bathe, even when it’s cold. You can buy a great bird bath, or make your own.
4. How wildlife friendly is your garden?
There are lots or things you can do to make your garden more appealing to birds and other wildlife: from simple activities such as leaving a little area unmown, to planting particular flowers and shrubs, or digging a pond. We’ve got all the advice you’ll need to give nature a home in your garden.
5. Plan your Big Garden Birdwatch hour
When it comes to your Big Garden Birdwatch, it’s the little details that count.
With a bit of imagination, you can make the experience into something truly memorable. Where in your home gives the best view of the garden? Could you move a favourite chair there so you’re super comfy? Could you invite a friend or family member round to share the experience, or would it be wonderful just to spend an hour alone with your birds?
We thoroughly recommend tea and biscuits, and maybe for this occasion you could make a whole pot of something a bit special, or brew up some gourmet coffee. And what would be the ultimate biscuit or cakes to go with it? It’s your hour. Make it count!
Keep coming back to the Big Garden Birdwatch pages for more tips and suggestions.