Peanuts are a favorite food for many birds, and they’re a fast, easy option for backyard birders to refill feeders. But are these familiar nuts best for your backyard birds?
Also called groundnuts, earthnuts, pig nuts, goobers and monkey nuts, peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) really aren’t nuts at all. They’re actually a legume in the bean family, and they are a rich source of protein, oil and other nutrition for many backyard birds.
The basic nutritional components of peanuts, including both shelled and in-shell peanuts, include:
- 45 percent fat
- 24 percent protein
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
Because peanuts are high in fat, they are an excellent source of energy and calories, especially during cold winters, and they're ideal for birds to tuck away and store for another day. No matter what types of peanuts or peanut products you feed your backyard birds, you’re actually offering them a very nutritional treat.
Birds That Eat Peanuts
While the very smallest birds, such as hummingbirds and small finches, will not eat peanuts, many different species will give these nutritious nuts a try. The most common birds that enjoy peanuts include:
- Northern Cardinals
- Dark-Eyed Juncos
Which birds will like your peanut offerings will depend on what types of peanuts you have in your feeders and what birds are regularly visiting your feeders.
Note: Peanuts and peanut-products are not always considered safe or appropriate for pet birds. Consult your bird veterinarian for an appropriate diet for your pet bird.
How to Feed Peanuts to Backyard Birds
There are several ways peanuts can be offered to backyard birds. Whole peanuts, either in the shell or just the hearts of the nuts, are popular with larger birds such as jays, ravens, crows, woodpeckers and grackles.
Smaller birds may also take the nut meats and pound or break them into smaller, bite-size pieces. Birds of all sizes will appreciate easier-to-eat peanut chunks and chips, and both whole peanuts and chips can also be blended into a simple bird suet recipe. Whole, in-shell peanuts are also often part of good quality birdseed mixes. Another popular option at backyard feeders is peanut butter, which can be included in suet, smeared on a tree trunk or added in dabs to a platform or tray feeder.
Some types of peanuts should never be offered to birds. Flavored varieties, including salted, smoked or seasoned peanuts, as well as any peanuts with a candy or chocolate coating, are never appropriate and can be dangerous for birds. Similarly, no baked goods - cookies, cakes, brownies, fudge, etc. - with peanuts should be offered to birds, as these are not suitable kitchen scraps for birds to eat.
Because peanuts are so popular, specialized feeders make it easier to offer these treats in your backyard. A mesh peanut feeder will hold whole nuts and make the birds work to wrangle each nut out of the feeder – providing plenty of entertainment for backyard birders as well as making the supply last longer.
Peanut chips can be offered in hopper feeders, and any types of peanuts can be added to a tray or platform feeder. It is important, however, not to offer too many peanuts at once – they are highly susceptible to mold and mildew, and can go rancid in just a few days in warm or moist climates. To avoid wasted, unappetizing nuts, only put out as many peanuts as the birds will consume in a day or two. Always store peanuts in a cool, dry place to keep them fresh as long as possible, or consider buying smaller quantities to keep the supply fresh.
Peanuts are also a favorite treat of squirrels and chipmunks. There are many ways you can work to squirrel-proof a bird feeder to make it more difficult for squirrels to raid the nut supply, or you can offer a second supply of peanuts in a specialized feeder, such as a hanging squirrel jar.
In many cases, squirrels will prefer this type of diversion feeder as they opt for the easiest available food source. Only offering a day or two’s worth of nuts will also help keep squirrels, chipmunks or other wildlife from hoarding the treat.
Peanuts are difficult but not impossible to grow in a backyard garden. These nuts require 4-5 months of warm, moist weather, so they grow best in mild southern climates. Plant whole, in-shell, raw (not roasted) peanuts in loose soil 1-2 inches deep and 6 inches apart to give plants adequate space. For healthy plants, use a rich compost or fertilizer and keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. These plants are very susceptible to frost, so they should not be planted until all danger of frost has ended. If necessary, peanut plants can be started as seedlings and transplanted outdoors when the weather is more appropriate.
The plants will mature in 140-150 days. During that time, the peanut flowers will screw themselves into the soil for the nuts to mature underground, so it is imperative that the soil be kept loose around the plants. When the plants are ready to harvest, pull up the entire plant and allow the nuts to dry on the vine before offering them to your backyard birds.
Peanuts are a rich food source popular with many different bird species. No matter what types of birds you have visiting your feeders, adding peanuts to your backyard buffet is sure to attract happy and hungry birds.