Birds and bird feeders

by Pippa Greenwood

Garden tits and fat balls. No, I'm not about to start writing top shelf, plain brown envelope stuff, just about birds and bird feeders.

Bird feeder containing fat ballsGarden tits and fat balls. No, I'm not about to start writing top shelf, plain brown envelope stuff, just about birds and bird feeders. I had the most horrible experience a couple of days ago, with a great tit and a fat ball. It had me in tears, so please take note. This is serious stuff, and I still feel sick when I think about it.

At the weekend we'd been in a garden centre and, like it seems 99% of the population do, we'd bought some fat balls. 100 of them, to be precise, as they were on special offer. They were the green plastic net types - our local birds seem to much prefer these 'basic' sort to the fancy ones with added extras. I nipped around the garden where we have the bird feeders, assorted hooks and other devices for bird food, and hung up six or seven fat balls.

The next day I walked past the bird table from which I had suspended a couple of fat balls. There, hanging by one leg entangled in the green plastic mesh, was a terrified great tit flailing around desperately. After ten minutes or more with the bird wrapped in a tea towel and me with a pair of scissors, I finally managed to extricate it. The leg seemed perfectly OK despite the fact the net had become wound around the leg several times and the poor bird flew away.

The solution, I am reliably informed, is to to remove the fat balls from the net before putting them out. You could even make fat balls yourself. Both options mean messy fingers, and leave the question of how to suspend them. One solution is to cram them in to those inexpensive metal-meshed cylindrical peanut feeders. I did this and it meant no suet up my fingernails. I'm pleased to say the tits were there in quantity, within a couple of minutes.

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Gardeners' World Web User 09/01/2008 at 17:44

Im quite new to bird feeding but i'm hooked already! I bought myself two feeders a couple of months ago and was lucky enough to have a beautiful bird table made for me for Christmas. I love watching the birds from the kitchen as they race around helping themselves to the nuts, seeds, mealworms, mashed potato, bread and fat balls I leave out for them. We are very lucky as we have such a wide variety of birds that visit our garden, from blue,great and coal tits, to starlings, black birds, dunnocks, greenfinches, robins and our resident pigeon named Dick and his girlfriend! They bring me so much pleasure, I wouldn't be without them now.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2008 at 19:23

The RSPB recommends that we should always remove the nylon netting around the fat balls for just the reason highlighted by Pippa - it's so easy for little feet to become entangled. Unfortunately there appear to be more and more hooks and hangers on sale encouraging people to hang up the fat balls by the netting - and these hooks and hangers are not much cheaper than a proper fat ball feeder. sells a variety of fat ball feeders (narrower than peanut feeders so there's no need to get yourself in a mess!). Prices range from £2.25 for a green wire feeder that holds 4 small fat balls (there's also one that holds 2 large fat balls), to a caged version that prevents access to larger birds for £14.95. I've also seen similar products at B&Q and at a number of local garden centres (ranging from £2.50). Bird lovers who spend money on fat balls to feed their feathered friends would willingly, I am sure, spend a further £3 or so to present them to the birds more safely. The difficulty is in highlighting the danger of leaving the fat balls in the nylon netting.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2008 at 20:27

There are feeders on the market specifically designed for these fat balls. I have had 2 for several years - 1 takes 2 of the large size fatballs and the other holds 4 of the small ones. I always remove the nets before placing in these holders and they have been a huge success and I have seen a greater spotted woodpecker on them as well as bluetits,great tits, sparrows and starlings

Gardeners' World Web User 15/02/2008 at 10:36

I always put them in a mesh holder, the starlings enjoy them, and break off bits, which drop for other birds. A friend, several years ago, packed a coconut shell for me with bird food,but with no hanging thread, I jammed it into the fork of a tree, unfortunately the squirrels competently removed it!

Gardeners' World Web User 15/02/2008 at 16:47

Gosh. I had seen the balls on sale and wondered if perhaps the plastic may get swallowed by the birds (could this happen?). I hadn't thought about the birds getting tangled. Emptying them into another container is a great idea. Thanks for the tip Pippa!

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