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. Birders may worry about how healthy peanut butter can be for birds, but it can actually be a great treat to add to a backyard buffet.
About Peanut Butter
Despite minor additives in most peanut butter (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:
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 fewest 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 with fewer additives 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, moldy, 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. Similarly, peanut butters that are blended with other products, such as marshmallow fluff or cookie pieces, are also not good for birds. Sugar-free or low-fat peanut butters are not suitable for birds either, as they lack the nutritional composition birds need, and sugar substitutes can be dangerous for birds. When available, low-salt peanut butters are ideal, as too much salt can be 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 soft and 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 completely 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. To avoid even the smallest risk, 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 yard or garden, it is easy to overcome those difficulties to offer birds a nutritious and delicious treat.
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Household Scraps for Birds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Can Birds Choke on Peanut Butter? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.