Do birds eat nuts? Yes! Nuts are a popular food source for many birds. But what nutrition do different nuts offer, and which birds are most likely to visit feeders and bird-friendly landscaping where nuts are available?
Nuts are a healthy source of fat to keep both birds' skin and feathers healthy. As a high-calorie food, nuts also provide birds plenty of energy for all their daily activities. Many nuts also include trace nutrients and minerals that birds need as part of a nourishing diet.
Nuts are especially popular as a winter bird food because they are long-lasting and easy to hide for later use. Many birds that thrive on nuts will spend weeks in autumn storing nuts by filling up cavities, niches in bark, small ground hollows, or other hiding places with ripe nuts. When other food sources are scarce or bad weather prevents adequate foraging, birds will return to those hiding places to eat their stored nuts. As a side benefit, uneaten nuts often sprout into new trees and bushes that provide even more food for birds and other wildlife in the future.
Many different types of nuts are popular foods for birds, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Hickory nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
The exact birds that eat different nuts varies depending on their natural diet, bill shape, and dietary needs, as well as what nuts are readily available in their habitat. Nuts can be a very reliable food source, and dozens of bird species will sample them.
Bird Species That Eat Nuts
Woodland birds are the most common species that eat nuts. These birds are accustomed to the food source and are readily adapted to forage for nuts easily, as well as cache an uneaten supply for winter. Birds with stronger, sturdier bills to fracture tough shells and prize out the nutritious nut meats are the most common nut consumers, but even smaller birds may successfully feed on nuts. Some birds, especially corvids, will even creatively drop nuts onto hard surfaces to crack the shells easily.
The most popular birds that eat nuts include:
- American robin
- Acorn woodpecker
- Black-billed magpie
- Black-capped chickadee
- Blue jay
- Blue tit
- Brown creeper
- California scrub-jay
- Carolina wren
- Clark's nutcracker
- Common grackle
- Dark-eyed junco
- Eastern towhee
- Florida scrub-jay
- Great spotted woodpecker
- Hairy woodpecker
- Long-tailed tit
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Red-breasted nuthatch
- Spotted towhee
- Steller's jay
- Tufted titmouse
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Wild turkey
- Wood duck
- Woodhouse's scrub-jay
While these species are all known nut-eaters, many other species will also sample nuts, especially if they are offered at feeders. Depending on the type of nut, feeder style, and nut size, different woodpeckers, tits, jays, chickadees, and wrens will all try eating nuts. Some birds will be more likely to sample whole nuts, while other birds prefer shelled nuts or nut pieces. Smaller birds may do best with nut products like peanut butter or other nut butters, but they still get the great nutrition and energy nuts offer.
Attracting Birds With Nuts
Nuts are a good food to offer birds and can provide hours of feeder entertainment as birds wrestle with large nuts and work to crack the heavy shells to feed. To offer birds nuts at the feeders, try these tips to appeal to a wider range of nut-eating bird species.
- Only offer raw or roasted nuts without any additional salt or seasonings. Raw nuts from a reputable birdseed dealer are best and are the most natural food source. If sprouting nuts are a problem, however, roasted, unsalted nuts can be a suitable alternative.
- Offer nuts in a tray or platform feeder or a specialized nut feeder with holes wide enough for birds to easily access the nuts. A few nuts can be offered at a time, or a whole feeder can be filled with nuts to satisfy many nut-hungry birds.
- Remove spent hulls of nuts to give birds easier access to whole or hulled nuts at feeders and to avoid excessive debris that can spoil and rot, creating an unhealthy feeding area. Nutshells are compostable or can be added to natural mulches.
- Use baffles, cages, or other squirrel-proof techniques to keep feeders safe for birds while discouraging other wildlife that will feed on nuts. Alternatively, offer a squirrel-friendly feeding area to pacify other visitors without depriving birds of the treat.
- If offering nuts in their shells, crack a few shells or shell a few whole nuts to expose the meat so smaller birds with less powerful bills can still sample the treat. Similarly, crush a few nuts to create even smaller pieces for small birds to eat.
- Freeze excess nuts to keep them fresh to offer at a later time. Nuts, especially raw varieties, can go rancid in warm climates, and spoiled nuts are less healthy and less appealing to birds. Freezing nuts will also keep insects from infesting the food supply.
- Consider planting nut-bearing trees or bushes to create a natural, renewable food source for birds that enjoy nuts. Choose native varieties birds will be familiar with, and plant the trees and bushes in appropriate soil and with appropriate sunlight for hearty nut crops.
- Leave leaf litter from nut-bearing trees on the ground to allow birds to forage on the fallen bounty in autumn and winter. Not only will birds find leftover nuts, but insects, seeds, grubs, and other goodies can also be found in the leaf litter and make great bird food.
- Consider adding a nut-blend suet or other nutty products such as peanut butter or nut-and-birdseed mixes to the backyard buffet for more sources of nuts backyard birds can enjoy.
Many different bird species readily feed on nuts. Learning which bird species prefer nuts and which nuts are best to offer can help birders take advantage of this healthy and delicious treat to attract even more birds to their feeders.
Swicegood, Carolyn. “NUTS Are For The Birds.” AFA Watchbird 27, no. 2 (2000): 58–63.
“Hoarding Food.” Accessed August 16, 2021. https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Hoarding_Food.html.