Vegetarian fat cakes for birds

Fat cake for birds

Update February 2016: I used to use Trex solid vegetable fat to make these fat cakes, but I now use coconut oil exclusively. Two reasons for this: coconut oil is higher in saturated fat, which is better for birds; and non-sustainable palm oil (found in Trex) contributes to the destruction of wildlife habitats. If you’re in the UK, the cheapest coconut oil I’ve found is available at Tesco, where a 500ml jar (Ktc brand) is £2.25.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen vegetarian fat cakes for birds… they all seem to be made of suet (beef tallow) or some other fat rendered from animals.

With the winter being so harsh this year, and with bird numbers already on the decline due to destruction of wildlife habitat and modern farming methods (eg. monoculture, pesticides, herbicides etc), I really wanted to encourage birds to our garden.

Fat cakes provide calories and energy for our feathered friends. But I didn’t want to buy traditional fat cakes because, for one, it means supporting the meat industry, and secondly, the by-products are probably about as healthy for the birds as they are for humans (that is to say, not at all).

After a little research, I discovered it’s not only possible to made your own fat cakes for birds, it’s also easy to substitute coconut oil for the animal fat that’s typically used.

There is some debate over whether vegetable fats are suitable for wild birds. The RSPB cautions against using “polyunsaturated margarines and vegetable oils” because of the lower saturated fat content. However, coconut oil is higher in saturated fat, and lower in polyunsaturated fat, than either lard or suet.

Saturated fat Polyunsaturated fat Monounsaturated fat
Coconut oil 86.5g 1.8g 5.8g
Suet 52.3g 3.2g 31.5g
Lard 39.2g 11.2g 45.1g

There’s some good info and recipes here on homemade fat cakes and balls for birds, including the advantages of using vegetable fat over animal fat. I adapted one of the recipes to make a much smaller amount, because it’s easier to make and store a small quantity.

I upped the fat content the second time as the mixture was quite crumbly the first time. However, the birds ate it with gusto both times.

Vegetarian fat cakes for birds

British American
50g coconut oil 4 tablespoons
2 tablespoons peanut butter 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons
70g polenta 6 tablespoons
3 tablespoons quick oats (or process large-flake oats in blender) 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour, white or wholemeal 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, chopped 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons raisins, chopped or cut into bits 2 tablespoons

1. Melt vegetable shortening, peanut butter and sugar over low heat in a small pot.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. When shortening and peanut butter have melted, add it to the dry ingredients and mix to combine evenly. Scrape into a shallow container (I used a plastic tub from a takeaway), press the mixture down, cover and refrigerate.

3. When mixture has firmed up, cut into squares and place on a platform-type bird feeder. You can also smoosh the mixture into small balls. Alternate ways of serving the fat cakes can be found here.

24 Comments

  1. WHY DO BIRDS SUDDENLY APPEAR?
    EVERYTIME – YOU ARE NEAR.

    JUST LIKE ME
    THEY LONG TO BE
    CLOSE TO YOU.

    hahahahha

  2. tweet tweet twitter tweet peep

    that’s the birds thanking you :).

  3. This is great! I usually mix up a peanut butter concoction but will have to try your recipe. The birdies thank you!

  4. Denny — hahaha, I read your comment last night and had the song going through my head all evening! uh oh, it’s just started again now.

  5. Awesome Felicity!
    I bet the birdies love these.
    🙂

  6. You are so generous to share your tasty creations not only with your fellow vegans, but also with the birds! What a great recipe and a great idea. Thanks!

  7. Made a double batch of this and the birds love it! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

  8. Wonderful! I shall be making vegan fat balls for the birds with my class of 8 year olds! 🙂

  9. Sorry – unfortunately vegetable oils are unsuitable for birds. Can you take this page down please. PS I am vegan so sympathise with your efforts.

    http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/whatfood/index.aspx

  10. Hi Birdy — Thanks for your comments. The RSPB cautions against “polyunsaturated margarines & vegetable oils”, not solid vegetable fat like Trex. I’ve read more on the topic of saturated fats for birds, and there is no consensus on the topic. Whilst the RSPB states that saturated fats are better for birds, other sources say that vegetable shortening — containing less saturated fat than suet or lard — is better for birds, as it is easier to digest. If it’s indeed true that saturated fats are best for birds, then coconut oil would be an ideal choice, as it contains 86g of saturated fat per 100g, compared to suet at 52g and lard at 38g. Trex is 21g saturated fat per 100g.

    I’ve updated the text in the post above to include this information.

    • I cannot find the Trex ingredients on their website, but someone posted a reply (on another website) that it’s made of hydrogenated vegetable oils. There is NOTHING natural about hydrogenated fats. It cannot be found in nature and the birds should not be fed it.

      And as to the idea that saturated fats are bad for wild omnivores – or humans, for that matter – is utterly ridiculous.

      • Bill — “Trex contains “no hydrogenated vegetable oil, e-numbers, colours or preservatives” (from the front page of their website). Having said that, it *does* contain palm oil which is not exactly environmentally friendly unless it is sustainable palm oil. For that reason, I now use coconut oil instead of Trex. I’m not sure where you read the saturated fats are bad for wild omnivores or humans, but it wasn’t on my blog 😉

  11. Birdy, did you even read the article you linked to? It doesn’t say that vegetable fat is unsuitable. Please read the article before misinforming people.

  12. Love your recipe! Thanks for giving us an alternative to using lard.

  13. Here is an organic, vegetarian suet company for bird feeding. http://www.birdsdonteatcows.com

  14. Would sunflower seed butter be a good substitution for p-nut butter? It seems a natural since all of the birds are devouring the seeds from the feeder now! Coconut oil is so expensive, so I think I’ll start looking for sales. I’m vegan & I can’t bear to support the excessively cruel factory farm industry.

  15. Why does this recipe have sugar?,surely that’s not good for them? Can I replace the Trex / Crisco with coconut oil in this recipe?

    • hi dawn — The sugar provides energy for the birds, you can leave it out though 🙂 And yes it’s fine to substitute coconut oil, that’s what I now use. It does make the mixture more crumbly.

  16. Wild birds other than hummingbirds should NOT have refined sugar. They get their energy from the fat in the shortening. Every veterinary source I know of says not to provide sugar or honey to wild (or captive pet) birds. Please do not add sugar.

  17. Any suggestions on feeding birds in a climate where fats aren’t solid in the winter? I am in southern California. The nights are cold but days are warm. Maybe birds don’t need the extra fat here?

    • hi Robin — Interesting question! I found a recipe for “no melt suet” cakes for birds HERE. I’m sure the recipe would work with coconut oil (which is what I now use exclusively for my homemade bird food). There is some info on feeding wild birds in California HERE. 🙂

  18. “Polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils
    These are unsuitable for birds. Unlike humans, birds need high levels of saturated fat, such as raw suet and lard. They need the high energy content to keep warm in the worst of the winter weather, since their body reserves are quickly used up, particularly on cold winter nights. The soft fats can easily be smeared onto the feathers, destroying the waterproofing and insulating qualities.”

    From the site that Birdy linked.

    • Thanks for your comments. I do not use polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils to make the bird food, I now use coconut oil exclusively. As I mentioned in the blog post, coconut oil is much higher in saturated fat than either lard or suet.

      There is no reason to use animal fats to make wild bird food.

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