Fat scoring is a widely used nondestructive method of assessing total body fat in birds. This method has not been rigorously investigated. We investigated inter- and intraobserver variability in scoring as well as the predictive ability of fat scoring using five species of passerines. Between-observer variation in scoring was variable and great at times. Observers did not consistently score species higher or lower relative to other observers nor did they always score birds with more total body fat higher. We found that within-observer variation was acceptable but was dependent on the species being scored. The precision of fat scoring was species-specific and for most species, fat scores accounted for less than 50% of the variation in true total body fat. Overall, we would describe fat scoring as a fairly precise method of indexing total body fat but with limited reliability among observers.