Fat balls for feeding birds
By Jade Harding
Fat balls are a popular choice for feeding birds, but while some brands will attract birds to your garden, others fail to impress.
The best fat balls will contain quality ingredients, attract lots of species of birds and will be able to withstand being outside without crumbling too quickly or growing mould. However, the worst we’ve tested will be hard, dry and unappetising to our garden wildlife.
Fat balls also vary in price, with some costing as little as £6 for 50 balls and others costing almost three times as much.
We wanted to discover which fat balls are worth buying and, more importantly, which will bring the most birds flocking to your garden.
In this article:
- Best fat balls for birds
- Which types of birds eat fat balls?
- What type of bird feeder should I use for fat balls?
- When should I feed birds fat balls?
- What ingredients should I look for in fat balls?
Not all types of birds will come to fat balls, as some are ground feeders or prefer insects, but here are the species you might spot:
- Blue tit
- Great tit
- Long-tailed tit
No-grow bird seeds - find out which bird food won't create weeds under your feeder when spilled.
Feeders for fat balls come in an enormous range of shapes and sizes. We’d advise you to 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’ feeder if this is likely to be a problem.
- Never buy fat balls surrounded by a plastic mesh. This is actually a hazard for small birds, as they can easily get entangled in it.
- 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.
We often think of feeding the birds as a winter job, but actually their winter food sources, such as berries and nuts, will often last them through until mid-winter or beyond.
February, March and April are important times to feed the birds, as summer insects won't have emerged yet and winter food sources will be running low.
We also reveal the gardening jobs to do each month of the year.
The most popular fat balls in our trials 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. Don’t worry if this happens. If you have a problem with rats, pick up the pieces and pop them onto a bird table. If not, ground-feeding birds, such as chaffinches, blackbirds and starlings, will appreciate the treat.
Include some sunflower hearts and mealworms in your feeders to attract a wider range of garden birds.
Use one of our best lawn mowers to keep your grass trimmed so birds can find food on the ground.
Why Which? fat ball reviews are better
Which? is independent and doesn't accept advertising or freebies, so you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about a product.
In January 2019, we set up three identical bird feeders at our test site. Each feeding station comprised an identical pole, squirrel/rat-proofing baffle and fat-ball feeder. All feeders at a given feeding station were readily and equally accessible to birds.
We tested 12 different brands of fat balls over the course of 12 weeks. Our expert tester observed the birds feeding from a hide. We recorded both the numbers and the species of the birds seen feeding, with at least three hours of monitoring for each type of fat ball on test.
- For two weeks we stocked the feeders with a brand of fat balls that wasn’t included in our trial, to familiarise the local birds with the feeding stations.
- Each feeder was regularly stocked with five fresh fat balls to ensure a continuous supply of food.
- The birds were presented with three different brands of fat ball at a time in each feeding station.
- We changed the brands presented at each feeding station every week, so that each brand was offered three times. The three brands offered were different each time, and the birds were able to choose between cheap and expensive brands.
- After each week in the feeding station, each fat ball was weighed to see how much had been eaten.
Gardening tool and accessory reviews - find out what else we test.