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Big fat no for birds

Last modified: 17 December 2010

Blue tit on coconut shell

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat – but that fat isn’t suitable for everyone.

The RSPB is warning that cooked turkey fat is extremely dangerous to birds and could even kill them.

Many people put the leftover contents of Christmas dinner roasting tins outside for birds, wrongly believing it’s as beneficial to 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 an energy boost and provide them with the nutrients they need.

But cooked turkey fat is completely unsuitable for birds for several reasons:

· It stays soft even when cooled, meaning it could smear onto birds’ feathers and ruin water proofing and insulating qualities

· The softness of turkey fat means its not practical to make popular ‘bird cake’ where its mixed with seeds, as it will not harden to hold its shape

· Many people rub turkey joints liberally with salt to crisp the skin and high levels of salt are toxic to birds

· The fat in roasting tins can’t be separated from other leftover liquids like meat juices. This concoction can go rancid quickly, 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 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.

“The juices mixed in roasting tins will go off very quickly and could cause disease on bird tables. Birds are very susceptible to them at this time of year.

“Turkey fat could also damage birds’ feathers and during winter they need to be in tip top condition to help keep them warm.

“But don’t let this put you off feeding garden birds – there are loads of leftovers that are suitable.”

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

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

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

How you can help

If you want to help the birds twice over by knowing you’re feeding top quality foods and using products overseen by our experts, RSPB Bird Care is for you.

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