Can Birds Eat Peanut Butter?

Do Wild Birds Eat Peanut Butter?

Peanut Butter
Photo © theimpulsivebuy/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Peanuts are a familiar and popular food for backyard birds, but can birds eat peanut butter? Checking the ingredient list on a peanut butter jar reveals hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt, molasses, sugar and a range of other additives. Backyard birders may worry about how healthy peanut butter can be for birds, but it can be actually be a great treat to add to a backyard buffet.

About Peanut Butter

Despite minor additives in most peanut butters – the exact composition varies by brand – the main ingredient is always peanuts.

Peanuts are an ideal source of fat, calories and protein for birds, providing good energy for all their active needs. Peanut butter also has other nutritious components, including…

  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium

While these vitamins and minerals may only be present in small amounts, they are still essential for a bird's healthy diet and peanut butter can provide them.

Birds That Eat Peanut Butter

Most birds that eat nuts or suet will also happily eat peanut butter. It is favored by smaller birds, since peanut butter is easier to collect in small bills and doesn't need to be cracked, shelled or broken to be eaten. The most popular birds that will snack on peanut butter include...

  • Chickadees, tits and titmice
  • Wrens, nuthatches and creepers
  • Woodpeckers, especially smaller species

Larger nut-loving birds, including thrashers, grackles, starlings, blackbirds, jays and other corvids may also try peanut butter.

Larger species, however, are more likely to enjoy whole or shelled nuts rather than softer butters, leaving this treat for smaller birds. This can be ideal for birders who hope to encourage both large and small birds to visit their feeders, as offering both whole nuts as well as peanut butter will attract different species.

Best Peanut Butter for Birds

Any peanut butter that is safe for human consumption can also be safely fed to birds, but the most ideal options are peanut butter brands with the least additives or extra ingredients. Organic or fresh peanut butters are best, and many wild bird supply stores or nature centers offer peanut or other nut butters specially formulated for feeding birds. Other peanut butter brands can also be offered to birds, including generic store brands. Birds can have peanut butter that is past its best by date, but no butter that is rancid or spoiled should be available to birds, as it could be toxic or dangerous.

Both creamy and crunchy peanut butter blends are equally attractive to birds. Peanut-butter-and-jelly products are not recommended, however, since different birds enjoy jelly and don't necessarily eat peanut butter. Sugar-free or low-fat peanut butters are not suitable for birds either, as they lack the nutritional composition birds need, and substitute additives can be dangerous for birds. When available, low-salt peanut butters are ideal, as it is uncertain whether too much salt is bad for birds. Conscientious backyard birders will not want to take chances by offering birds excess salt.

Of course, no peanut butter products such as cookies, cakes, candies or fudge should ever be offered to birds. No matter how much peanut butter they may contain, the extra ingredients in these snacks are not healthy for a bird's diet.

Offering Peanut Butter to Backyard Birds

There are many different ways to make peanut butter accessible to hungry birds. Smaller jars can be hung as basic feeders for birds to enjoy, or peanut butter can be smeared on a tree, post or fence. Take care, however, since the oil in peanut butter can easily stain wood or other permeable surfaces. Instead, peanut butter dollops can be added to small dishes or platform feeders for easy feeding and convenient cleanup.

Peanut butter is often used for simple do-it-yourself feeders, such as pine cone bird feeders. Homemade feeders often use peanut butter mixed with birdseed to be even more attractive to birds, or peanut butter can be added to homemade suet as well.

Because peanut butter can go rancid and may get runny when it is warm, it is best to offer peanut butter only in shady areas out of direct sunlight. Offering the butter in smaller quantities can help keep it from going bad before birds can eat it all. It may also be necessary to take steps to squirrel-proof bird feeders to discourage other critters from enjoying the treat before the birds find it.

Myths About Peanut Butter

Despite how good peanut butter can be for birds and how easy it is to add to a backyard buffet, there are several persistent myths that surround this nutritious treat.

  • Birds can choke on sticky peanut butter.
    There have been no recorded, verified instances of birds getting peanut butter stuck in their throats or bills, or otherwise choking on peanut butter. Birds have different mouth, throat and tongue structures than humans, and they are easily capable of eating peanut butter without problems.

    To eliminate any risk of sticky peanut butter, no matter how small, the butter can be mixed with flour, cornmeal or dry oatmeal. This will make the peanut butter drier and more crumbly, which will be easier for birds to break apart and consume.
     
  • Peanut butter can coat feathers and make it harder to fly.
    While this is certainly possible, it is highly unlikely and has not been noted as a regular problem even among birds that are fanatics for peanut butter. To get coated with peanut butter, birds would have to rub on or roll in the butter, which they do not typically do. Even if they were coated, preening would easily remove the peanut butter without harming the birds.

    Keeping peanut butter cooler or choosing brands with less oil content will make it more difficult for the butter to coat birds' feathers. Mixing the butter with drying ingredients such as flour and cornmeal can also reduce any potential problems with birds' plumage.

Peanut butter is a great treat for birds, and while there can be some minor problems with offering it in the backyard, it is easy to overcome those difficulties to offer birds a nutritious and delicious treat.