Whether you carve one pumpkin for a Halloween Jack-o-lantern, use a few for festive fall decorations around your home, or stew several for pies, muffins, and other treats, don't let the seeds go to waste! With hundreds, even thousands, of seeds available from just a few pumpkins, it is easy to offer pumpkin seeds for birds at your feeders. This can be an inexpensive and easy fall treat for your backyard birds as well as a great way to save money on birdseed.
About Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious for birds, particularly in fall when the birds need more energy to fuel migration, molt into winter plumage, and store fat to resist the cold. Pumpkin seeds are high in calories, carbohydrates, and healthy fats and are a good source of protein. They are also a good source of different trace minerals and nutrients that are essential for a wild bird's complete diet, including:
Birds That Eat Pumpkin Seeds
A wide variety of birds will sample pumpkin seeds. Most seed- and nut-eating birds will try pumpkin seeds that have been dried or lightly roasted, and birds that eat fruit may also pick at seeds that are fresh and raw with bits of juicy pulp still attached. While the exact birds that will eat pumpkin seeds will depend on what other foods are available and which birds typically visit your yard, common pumpkin seed eaters include:
- Black-capped chickadees
- Blue jays
- Blue tits
- Brown thrashers
- Carolina chickadees
- Dark-eyed juncos
- European starlings
- Gray catbirds
- Great tits
- House sparrows
- Mourning doves
- Northern cardinals
- Northern mockingbirds
- Purple finches
- Rainbow lorikeets
- Red-breasted nuthatches
- Rose-breasted grosbeaks
- Sulfur-crested cockatoos
- Tufted titmice
- Varied tits
- White-breasted nuthatches
In addition to these individual species, many related birds—such as other species of jays, tits, grosbeaks, finches, and parrots—may also sample pumpkin seeds. You can also offer pumpkin seeds to ducks at local ponds, or feed them to domestic chickens. In the yard, squirrels, chipmunks, and other wildlife may also find pumpkin seeds irresistible.
Preparing Pumpkin Seeds for Birds
It's easy to put pumpkin seeds out for birds to enjoy, and no special preparation is needed. The raw seeds, just scooped out of the pumpkin rind, can be added to a dish or tray feeder. The birds will help themselves, picking off bits of flesh and munching on the seeds. Birds may even visit a compost heap to seek out the juicy rind and crunchy seeds.
If you prefer to prepare the seeds, they can be rinsed in clean water to remove the majority of the pulp. Spread the cleaned seeds in a thin layer on a lightly greased or non-stick tray or cookie sheet, and roast them at 200 to 300 degrees F (95 to 150 C) for 20 to 30 minutes. Turning or stirring the seeds every few minutes will keep them from burning or scorching. After roasting, allow the seeds to cool completely before handling them.
Another option is to dry the pumpkin seeds by placing them on a screen or tray outdoors on a sunny day. Position the seeds in direct sunlight for several hours, and stir or turn them every hour or two for even drying. If there is a slight breeze they will dry more quickly.
Feeding Pumpkin Seeds to Backyard Birds
After the seeds are roasted or dried, they can be added to a bird feeder whole, or they can be crushed with a rolling pin or ground coarsely in a food processor. Breaking up the seeds will make them more tempting for smaller birds that would have difficulty with the large size and stiff hulls of full seeds.
Because pumpkin seeds are so large, place them in feeders with wide feeding ports or open feeding trays or dishes so birds can access them easily. Scattering the seeds directly on the ground or on a deck, patio, or railing can also attract hungry birds. Whole or crushed pumpkin seeds can be mixed with homemade suet or stirred in with other birdseed blends. Whole seeds can also be strung on a bird feeder garland or pressed into patterns on homemade birdseed ornaments for festive feeding options.
It can take some time for birds to discover pumpkin seeds. Adding a few black oil sunflower seeds on top of a handful of pumpkin seeds can encourage the birds to try the new food. It can also be helpful to reduce or remove other types of birdseed and foods offered so that birds will be more apt to try the pumpkin seeds. Once they learn about these new seeds, however, many birds will happily enjoy the autumn feast.
Pumpkin Seeds to Avoid
While raw, dried, or roasted pumpkin seeds are great for birds, do not feed them seeds with salt, seasonings, candy coatings, or other flavorings. These additives are not healthy for birds and will only attract less desirable rodents or unwanted guests to the yard. No other pumpkin or pumpkin-spice baked goods such as pies, cookies, muffins, donuts, breads, or other foods are suitable for birds, as the extra sweetening and other ingredients are unhealthy and could potentially be toxic.