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Fat balls for birds: are they worth your money?

We spend around £200 million feeding birds in the UK each year, but should fat balls be on your shopping list?

Fat balls are a popular choice for feeding birds, but members of the Which? Gardening Facebook group told us that while some brands did attract birds, others failed to impress. 

Fat balls are made from suet mixed with bird foods, such as seeds, nuts and mealworms. They vary in price, with some as low as £6 for 50 balls, and others costing almost three times as much. We wanted to know which brands were most popular with birds.

We tested 12 different brands over the course of 12 weeks. Our expert tests observed the birds feeding from a hide. We recorded both the numbers and the species of birds seen feeding, with at least three hours of monitoring for each fat ball on test. We also tested how well each brand stood up to the weather and whether they fell apart, leaving an ugly mess under the bird feeder that can attract rats.

One of the cheapest brands on test was our top-performing Best Buy – to find out what it was and our other Best Buys, subscribe to Which? Gardening magazine’s October issue by calling 029 2267 0000 or sign up online.

How to get the best from fat balls

Use the right feeder

Feeders for fat balls come in an enormous range of shapes and sizes. We’d advise you look out for one that doesn’t contain too many balls, so that the birds can eat them before they start to disintegrate. Squirrels will remove fat balls wholesale, so do invest in a squirrel-proof bird feeder if this is likely to be a problem.

Site your feeder close to cover, such as a leafy bush or tree, so that small birds can hop on and off quickly to avoid predators. Place it where local cats won’t be able to access it – find out more about how to discourage cats coming into your garden.

Timing

We often thinking of feeding the birds as a winter job, but actually their winter food sources, such as berries and nuts, will often last them through to mid-winter or beyond. February-April is an important time to feed birds as winter food sources run low and summer insects are yet to emerge.

Ingredients

The most popular fat balls in our trial had high suet content and tended to be quite soft. This made them easy for the birds to eat, but also meant they did have a tendency to fall apart more easily. Don’t worry if this happens. If you have a problem with rats, pick up the pieces, otherwise ground-feeding birds, such as chaffinches, blackbirds and starlings, will appreciate the treat.

Which types of birds eat fat balls?

Blue tit

These tiny blue and yellow birds are a favourite garden visitor, and will happily hang on feeders to feast on nuts and seeds in fat balls.

Great tit

With a smart black and white head, and a yellow chest with a black stripe, great tits are easily distinguished from the smaller blue tits.

Dunnock

In delicate shades of brown and grey, these elegant little birds will visit a feeder and enjoy bopping around the base to catch any falling crumbs.

Long-tailed tit

These have a distinctive long tail and buff or pinkish body, making them extremely pretty. They like to fly in small flocks.

Robin

With its orange chest, the robin is one of our best-loved birds. It will manage to hang from a feeder, especially if it has a stiff wire cage to support it.

Attract more wildlife to your garden by creating a pond for wildlife.

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