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The birds don’t want to eat the fat balls - why?

We have used fat balls and fat balls throughout the year with the exception of the weed seed season.
Our two disused starling boxes were home to five broods of sparrow chicks each this summer.
Understandably we have a large sparrow population in the garden.

When the frost set in, they refused to touch the fat balls from ‘Nature’.
The balls were frozen solid and it was impossible for the birds to hack them with their beaks.
On my way to and from shopping, I see lots of untouched fat balls hanging in gardens.

When I stored the fat balls indoors and crushed them on the bird table after first removing the netting, the sparrows gathered happily round the bird table enjoying the food.
They were joined by a blackbird, a lone thrush and a robin.

When I hang the fat balls up at other times of the year, 1-2 dominant birds sit on the them and hack at the other birds that want to eat.
When I crush the fat balls on the bird table after first removing the netting, 6-10 birds sit eating happily at the bird table.

Your fat balls become so hard in frosty weather that the birds cannot hack them with their beaks.

1) Write clearly on the bag that the fat ball should be crushed//mashed/pulverised in frosty weather conditions – possibly using a hammer if the fat balls are kept in outbuildings.
2) Describe the problem in the press.

In frosty weather, the birds cannot hack the fat balls with their beaks and the balls are left untouched.

Answer: All our products, including our fat balls, are subject to stringent quality control and we know that the birds love to eat them. Our test panels comprise ordinary families who test our products in Danish gardens the whole year round.

A test panel is given an unlimited supply of bird food and we do not release or sell products unless they live up to the birds’ food intake requirements.

We use only the finest raw ingredients, place high demands on our suppliers and naturally monitor the quality of our raw ingredients and finished products.

Just as with humans, birds need different kinds of food. From our tests we know that the birds’ eating habits change according to the time of year. The birds actually eat less during the winter months. During the breeding season in spring and summer, the birds’ energy needs are up to four times greater than in winter. In winter the birds use their energy to stay warm.
To maintain a body temperature of approx. 44 degrees (the requirement for many small birds) the birds need energy that can be quickly converted, i.e. energy from carbohydrates which comes from grain, seeds and fruit.
The need for energy that is converted at a slower rate, i.e. energy from fat, is less at this time of year, as the body needs a great deal of energy to convert fat. This is why seed and seed mixes are consumed in huge quantities during the winter period.

Humans also require extra energy when it comes to high performance. Just think of a physical challenge such as a long-distance run. Then the body needs energy from carbohydrates because it can convert this energy very quickly so you can give of your best.

We therefore recommend that you serve a varied range of bird food as well as seeds, seed mixes and nuts.

You write that you crush the fat balls and spread them out onto the bird table. It is a really good idea to use different feeding methods for the birds: Some birds like to hang upside down when they eat while others prefer a flat surface.

When using a bird feeder, it is a good idea to first remove the netting so the birds can easily get at the fat balls.

In very cold weather with severe ground frost it is a very good idea (as you suggested) to lightly mash the fat balls before hanging them up in the netting. That way they become looser in consistency and it is much easier for garden birds to eat them. Everything freezes in frosty weather and fat balls are no exception.

You can throw a couple of fat balls onto the lawn when it is covered in snow and ice. You do not have to crush them. And a few apples. Blackbirds and thrushes will love you for it.

Now that it is really cold at night, it is a really good idea to replenish the feeding station in the morning. The birds are hungriest in the morning and will appreciate a tasty breakfast buffet with a varied choice of foods.

As you described, crushing or mashing a fat ball which has been left out in 10-15 degrees of frost is no easy matter so during the winter it is a really good idea to store the fat balls indoors. Keep them in a sealed container, in a bucket with a lid, for example. Alternatively you can (as you described) store the fat balls outdoors and use a hammer to crush them a little before serving.

We recommend that you feed the birds often but a little at a time. You should only put out as much food as will be consumed in one or two days.

Water is vital for garden birds – also in winter when the birds’ dry food intake is high. It is a good idea to serve lukewarm water. In our experience this can increase the numbers of garden birds by as much as 50%.

The birds will of course eat snow to survive if they cannot find a fresh supply of running water. But try and serve water – you can place a bag at the bottom of your birdbath so it is easy to dislodge the block of ice and fill up the birdbath with fresh water. Obviously if you use lukewarm water it will take longer for the water to freeze.