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Don't kill birds with kindness this Christmas

Last modified: 19 December 2014


Image: Ray Kennedy

The RSPB is urging people to put on a festive feast to fatten up garden birds this Christmas, but to avoid leaving out the potentially dangerous leftover contents of their Christmas dinner roasting tins.

Cooked turkey fat is extremely dangerous to birds for several reasons and can have catastrophic consequences for your garden visitors.

The fat remains soft even when cooled and it could easily smear onto birds’ feathers and ruin their water-proofing and insulating qualities. This layer of grease would make it virtually impossible for birds to keep their feathers clean and dry, which is essential if they are to survive the cold winter weather.

The fat in roasting tins can quickly go rancid when leftover with other meat juices in a warm kitchen before being put outside. This forms an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria, which could prove fatal to birds at this time of the year.

It is a popular tradition to add other ingredients to a joint of meat before roasting, including rubbing salts in order to crisp the skin and to add extra flavour. High levels of salt are toxic to garden birds so the RSPB urges people not to leave the cooked fats from any meat on bird tables this Christmas.

Amy Colvin from RSPB Northern Ireland said: “It’s extremely important that people don’t put the fat from roasting tins outside for birds this Christmas. Although it may seem like a good thing to do, you could be killing them with kindness.

“Often people believe they’re helping birds by pouring the fat from Christmas joints onto bird tables or mixing it with bird seed, but this is a completely different kind of fat and could 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 winter cold.”

However, the RSPB is encouraging people to put on a festive feast for visiting garden birds, as additional feeding at this time of the year can be the difference between life and death.

Amy added: “Bird seed table mix, suet balls and other nibbles are great at providing birds with the vital energy and nutrients that are so important for them. Additionally, there is no harm in slipping in a few festive treats such as Christmas cake crumbs, mince pie pasty crumbs and biscuit crumbs to give them an extra boost. And if you do find yourself with a little extra time over the holidays and want to cook up a festive feast for your garden birds from scratch, then the RSPB’s website has a selection of recipes you can follow.”

Providing shelter for birds at this time of the year is also hugely beneficial. By carefully planting dense hedges or putting up a next box provides the perfect spot for birds to roost in and shelter from the weather.

For more information about how you can give nature a home in your outside space visit

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