To an Aussie – the word ‘fatballs’ could only have one possible meaning, and it’s not until I moved to the UK that I encountered the use of this word in relation to wildlife and birds. If you want to be the envy of all your wild-life-loving neighbours, start making home-made fatballs. Not only can they get really expensive to buy, but they look as if they contain dubious ingredients and like us, birds like good food too. I can tell they prefer my fatballs because they’re almost all gone just a day or two after I put them out, where as the store-bought ones can be sitting outside for a week. However, the RSPB advises that fatballs are best made and put out in winter to prevent homemade ones from going rancid in the heat, and due to the different dietary needs of birds in the spring/summer months.
I got the idea to make my own from browsing through Red Sky at Night by Jane Struthers. It’s a nifty little book of lost country-side wisdom and to go with her fatball chapter she included a whole bunch of collective nouns for birds. Some of my favourites; a confusion of guinea fowl, a bevy of quail, a charm of finches, a parliament of owls and an unkindness of ravens.
We have starlings, sparrows, finches, parrots, robins, pheasants, woodpeckers and magpies in our yard and while it takes a little extra effort, I feel better knowing what’s in the fatballs they’re eating in my garden. You can read up extensively about what to put in your mix, but I keep it fairly simple and find fatballs are a great way to use up left overs and wasted food. However, it’s really important not put any mouldy or ‘off’ food in the fatballs. And steer clear of anything salty or cured like bacon, salami or salted nuts, don’t include coconut, uncooked rice or any dried pulses as these can swell in the gut and kill the birds. If you stick to the following list of ingredients you should be fine and ofcourse make sure everything’s chopped to be bird-bite sized;
cooked rice, potato, pasta
uncooked oatmeal, oats
left over cake/biscuits
I generally only make fatballs when I have some left overs that I know will go well in the fatballs. I often have bread scraps going to waste and the other night we had left over cooked rice. I always have raisins and oats in the cupboard, and I also throw in some seeds from the loose mix I buy for the birds.
It’s wise to use 1:2 proportions of suet to dry ingredients (200g of suet in each pack, means about 400g of dry ingredients). You simply melt the suet, add your finely chopped or whizzed ingredients, and mix.
Spoon small amounts into a mini-muffin tray and press down with the back of the spoon. It beats hand-rolling them (you’ll know why when you’ve your hands covered in beef fat), and besides – who said they have to be round? This way, you can pop them in the fridge to cool, and then run the back of the tray under hot water to release them.