Winter is a tough time for garden birds – food is is hard to find just at the time when they need it most to keep warm. You can buy special wild bird mixes to put out, but you can also feed some of your leftovers to the birds. Remember that they’ll need a source of clean water that’s not frozen, too.
Whether you’re using fresh foods, or leftovers, making a bird cake is an easy way to serve high energy meals to your birds (and they’re cheaper than fat balls).
The only required ingredient is lard or another fat that is solid when cold, which holds everything together. For the ‘filling’, use whatever you have on hand, whether it’s stale cake, biscuits and bread or purchased bird seed. Less solid fats can be soaked up by bread* crumbs, and bacon rind is always welcome. You could also add cooked potatoes, grated or crumbled cheese (nothing too strong, or blue), and pastry crusts.
Some birds eat fruit and will enjoy apples (chopped) that are a bit past their best, or dried fruit.
Birds can’t have salt, so avoid salted nuts, crisps and snacks (although unsalted nuts are fine). And don’t add chocolate (although I suspect most people would keep that for themselves 😉
Gently melt the fat. I use a saucepan, but you may prefer using the microwave or a water bath. Don’t leave it unattended, and remove from the heat as soon as the last lump melts.
Meanwhile, mix together your ingredients and then tip them into your chosen mould. You can use clean yoghurt pots or food containers, or muffin trays. Some people like using coconut shells. Make sure you choose something that will either easily release the finished cakes, or that you’re happy to leave outside in the garden.
Pour the melted fat over the mixture in the mould. Some seeds tend to float, but it’s not too much of a problem. If you have too much fat, pour it into a container to solidify and save it for reuse – never pour melted fat down the sink as it clogs the drains.
Leave your cakes to cool. Once they are solid you can turn them out (if you have a problem doing so, pop them in the fridge or freezer for a little while, and the cakes contract slightly and go harder, and are easier to extract).
Homemade bird cakes will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, but once you start putting them outside you should find that demand is high enough to polish them off quickly 🙂
*Bread on its own is not recommended for birds in cold weather – it is filling, but not a high energy food for them, so it could stop them getting calories. But once it is included in a fatty bird cake, it’s a different story!