Make fat cakes for the birds
by Rhiannon James
Once the weather starts to turn wintry, many birds abandon the countryside for the cosier comforts of towns and cities. One way to give them a warm welcome when they arrive is to put out fat cakes which are full of the energy they need to survive the cold. You can buy ready-made ones but it’s cheaper, and a lot more satisfying, to make your own.
Things you’ll need
1. Some containers to set your mix in. You can either hang up the containers to attract agile birds such as tits or turn the mix out on to a bird table or tray once it has set. We used the ceramic dishes that posh pies and desserts are sold in and a mug but you can also use yoghurt pots or other old plastic containers.
2. Lard or suet – this is available from most supermarkets. Don’t use fat left over from cooking.
3. Ingredients for your mix. These could include: wild bird seed (we used sunflower hearts), mealworms, crushed peanuts (that are labelled as being safe for birds), oatmeal, mild grated cheese and dried fruits (it’s best to soak these before you add them to the mix as most birds get their moisture from the food they eat). Use about one-third lard to two-thirds ingredients.
4. A drill and a ceramic drill bit
5. Synthetic twine
6. Some short twigs
Step by step
1. If you’re making hanging fat cakes, start by making a hole in the bottom of the container. For our ceramic containers, we marked the centre of the base and then drilled a small hole using a ceramic drill bit. Then thread a length of twine through the hole and tie the end inside the container around a twig – this will stop the container slipping off the twine and will help to hold the mix in place once it has set.
2. Mix all your dry ingredients together.
3. Then heat the lard in a saucepan until it melts and goes runny.
4. Pour a little melted lard into each container and add a heap of dry ingredients on top. Then fill nearly to the top with more lard, aiming for a mix of one-third lard to two-thirds dry ingredients. Stir the mixture well with a spare stick.
5. Put the containers in the fridge or outside (if it’s cold) and wait for the fat to set.
6. If you’re planning to empty the mix out of the container when it has set and you’re feeling creative, you can decorate the top of each cake. Wait until the mix has started to solidify but is still soft, and then press more seeds and fruit into the top of the cake in whatever pattern you fancy. Once you’ve done that, cover the top in clingfilm and press down on it with something flat, such as a plant saucer, so that the pattern is pressed into the lard. Then leave the mix to fully set.
7. Once the mix is solid, hang up your containers or empty the mix on to a bird table or tray. Breaking some of the cake into crumbs will make it easier for birds to eat.
It’s best not to put out fat cakes in the summer as they can go rancid in warm weather.