We’re feeding the wild birds here at Les Fragnes, and have been for a few weeks now. I’ve hung fat balls out in the trees several times before over the years, but until recently they were always met with deep suspicion and ignored. Perhaps this sudden interest in our fat balls is due to the increasing loss of habitat locally, thanks to farmers and council workers who seem determined to destroy every hedgerow in Creuse. When the hedges go, so do sources of food (berries, insects living there, etc) and places to shelter. But here birds are welcome in all our trees and bushes, which, unFrenchly, we have no desire to reduce to sawdust. I’ll do my best to keep everyone well fed during winter.

A bird table isn’t the best bet, given our six farm cats, but fat balls can be hung well out of kitty reach. Not out of everyone’s reach, though. An enterprising rodent has managed to tightrope walk along some very spindly twigs to get at the tempting treat. We caught him on the critter cam: he leant down, grabbed the fat ball and dragged it up onto the twig with him. Here’s what he left behind.

Photo: fatball chewednet

We’ve now taken to hanging our fat balls from strands of wool that are stretched between branches. That should prove too difficult even for our tightrope walking visitor!

The purchased fat balls I’ve been using so far are made from flour and fat, and a mixture of millet, sorghum, wheat, sunflower seeds, millet, ground seashell, calcium carbonate and peanuts. Each 90g ball contains around 410 kilocalories. I’ve been hunting around online to see if I can find out how many kcals a small bird needs per day to survive. One formula I’ve come across is that seed-eating birds need to consume between one quarter to one half of their body weight in seeds daily. Small birds have a large surface area to volume ratio which means they lose heat quickly and so need to keep stocked up with energy. The fat in fat balls fulfils that role efficiently, being high-calorie, and the seeds provide the various minerals and nutrients they require. That said, the seeds also provide a good few kcals too: millet, for example, provides 378 kcals per 100g, sorghum 339 and wheat about 215.

The birds seem to enjoy them. This fat ball has been well pecked at.

Photo: fatball nibbled

Chris has 3D-printed off a fat ball holder for me too. So far no one has been near it! However, when the birds get used to it, and/or get hungry enough, I’m sure they’ll come and pay a visit. This holder should prove to be a lot more rodent-proof too.

Photo: fatball holder

I shall soon be making my own fat balls. I have a mould (again 3D-printed by Chris), lard, flour and seeds. I plan to reuse the empty nylon nets that the bought fat balls came in and the feeder. I also plan to try and knit some bag-type holders from string. It’s a pity that the mass-produced balls come in nylon rather than a biodegradable material. As we’ve seen, the nylon isn’t resistant to sharp teeth so provides no more strength than string would.

We’ve seen mainly Great Tits eating from our fat balls, and also a hovering Robin! However, there are plenty of other birds in our garden and fields – Blue Tits, Sparrows, Starlings, Nuthatches, Tree-creepers – so I’m sure they must be helping themselves too. I shall be watching with my camera.