It’s easy and cheap enough to buy suet balls or fat cakes for the birds. But if like me, your waistline won’t stand any more home baking, or you need a fun project to do with the kids, making some suet balls or fat cakes for the birds can be a good option. Keep yourself occupied and the birds well fed during the cold days of winter. Here’s our step by step guide.
How To Make Your Own Suet Balls
Suet Balls or fat cakes will take you just a few minutes to make and are so good for the birds.
You can feed the birds with fat cakes at any time of year, but they are pretty much a feeding essential in winter.
Most of our garden birds are tiny and really struggle to keep up their body temperatures and energy during the cold winter months. Unlike most humans, they need all the calories they can get. For example, a Robin can lose over 10% of his body weight in just one cold night.
Fat balls are packed with fat and calories, so they are a perfect food to offer you your garden birds in winter.
What Fat To Use?
Commercial fat cakes are made from suet, which is rendered beef fat. You can buy suet in the shops and use this.
You could equally well use lard, which is rendered pork fat. It is a hard fat and can be cheaper to buy than suet.
Vegetarians or vegans could use vegetarian suet or coconut oil. Again, both are hard fats at room temperature and keep well and hold their shape as bird cake.
Don’t use butter, margarine or any sort of soft fat spread, These are liable to melt, coat the birds’ feathers and cause them problems flying.
The Dry Ingredients.
You could simply offer the birds some plain suet, or lard. They would eat and enjoy this. But where’s the fun for you? Most bird cake and suet balls are a combination of fat and dry ingredients. You can get creative with this. There is a long list of ingredients you can use.
- Bird Seed Mix
- Dried Mealworms
- Porridge Oats
- Grated Cheese
- Dried Fruit, Sultanas raisins, currants, dates, prunes, cranberries.
- Nuts, peanuts. Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, brazils, pecans or macadamia nuts.
- Dry breakfast cereal crumbs: cornflakes, bran flakes, shredded wheat,
- Cake crumbs – yes just a few will be fine.
Don’t just go for one dry ingredient, mix it up!
What not to put in suet cakes.
Check out our post of what not to feed garden birds for the full rundown of foods that are bad for them. But for homemade bird cake particularly avoid:
- Any foods that are cooked already like potatoes, pasta or rice. Suet balls keep quite well but cooked foods may not.
- Any soft foods like fresh fruit or vegetables. Again, these may go off, and the moisture content may stop your mixture setting properly.
- Big chunks of food – make sure larger dried fruit and nuts are chopped for little beaks.
- Desicated coconut – this expands in birds stomachs and can be painful or even fatal.
- Sugary foods and chocolate – bad for the birds, just like it is for us. Don’t add sugary or chocolate cereal crumbs to your mix.
- Salty foods – again, birds don’t do well with salt. Avoid salted nuts for your cake mix.
Measure out one part fat to two parts of dry ingredients. For your first batch try 200gms of lard (one block) and 400gms of dry ingredients of your choice.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, make sure you have chopped up any large lumps.
Now, you have two choices:
Quick and easy option: melt the lard or suet in a pan over a low heat. When it is liquid, pour it into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Fun and messy option: if you’re doing this with kids, allow your fat to come to room temperature, grate, or cut into little chunks (if you are using suet this comes already shredded). Add the fat to the dry ingredients and use your hands to mix all the ingredients together and squish into a lump.
However you choose to serve your suet cake, once you have portioned it up, it will need to go into the freezer for up to 12 hours to set.
Serving Suggestions – Making Your Bird Feeder.
Now you have your bird cake mixture ready to go there are loads of different options for serving it to the birds.
Quick and Easy
Shape the mix into balls with your hands or press it into a cake or traybake tin to cut up into chunks later.
Putting the mixture into ice-cube trays to set also makes a nice quick and easy option.
Take a yoghurt pot or a cupcake case and make a hole in the base. Thread some string through the hole then pack the container with your mixture.
When the mixture is set, peel away the container.
Then you can either tie a knot in one end of the string, beneath the suet block to hold it up and tie the other end to your bird table or a tree. Or tie the two ends of the string together to form a circle and loop this over a branch.
You can also use all sorts of shaped cupcake or biscuit moulds for this method: hearts, stars, seashells, whatever you fancy.
Add a Perch
Using the same method, tie a small stick or twig under the suet block base to form a perch. Then tie the other end to your bird table or tree.
Pack your mixture into an old coconut shell, or a teacup and suspend this from a tree. You can stick a small trig into the mixture for a perch if you like.
If you have used melted fat, you will need to let your mixture cool a little before starting on these methods.
Tie a string around the broadest part of a pine cone. Then pack your mixture all over the surface, working it into all the nooks and crannies. Then suspend from a tree or your bird table.
Take an old log and do the same. You can add twine to this to suspend it, or just sit it on the ground, or your bird table if it’s not too big.
You can even take your mixture outside and smear it directly onto your birds favourite tree. It won’t hurt the tree, and the birds will love it!
Check out these pins for some creative ideas on bird cake presentation.
Store your fat balls and bird cakes in the freezer, and they will last for up to 3 months. Allow them a few hours to defrost before putting them out for the birds.
Don’t Forget the Drinks!
Remember to always offer water near your bird feeding station. They need to drink and bathe even in mid-winter. Keep your water topped up and stop it from freezing over by adding a little from your kettle each morning.
We hope you’ve found this article interesting and useful. We would love to see pictures or your bird cakes! And if you have a question or suggestion, please leave us a comment below.