Be Your Own Birder

Peanuts Are the Perfect Winter Bird Food

Winter is the perfect time to feed birds, when many natural food sources are getting scarce just when birds need more food to stay warm and active. And while there are many delicious and nutritious winter foods birds will enjoy, peanuts are about the perfect choice.

Why Peanuts and Not Other Foods?

Birds need a great deal of fat and calories for winter energy, especially to keep their body temperature up during freezing nights and cold snaps. Many different foods can offer that energy, including suet, nyjer seed, and even carb-heavy options such as cracked corn. Peanuts, however, can be better than all of those.

Whole Raw Peanuts - Photo by Craig Nagy
Whole Raw Peanuts – Photo by Craig Nagy

Suet, for example, is rendered fat often mixed with seed, bits of nuts, and other treats for birds. You can’t get more high-fat than a block of fat, right? While that’s true, suet is also messier and more difficult to offer than peanuts. On warm days it can soften and melt, and if uneaten, it can spoil quickly. Nyjer – the tiny, oil-rich, black seeds so beloved by winter finches – is another great choice, but it is also very expensive, requires specialized feeders for its tiny size, and doesn’t appeal to as wide a range of hungry winter birds. Cracked corn is an inexpensive option to feed winter birds, and will indeed fill their bellies, but it is less nutritious and can attract large flocks of grackles, starlings, and sparrows. Those large flocks may then scare away or crowd out other birds, so the feed isn’t shared as evenly among all the winter birds that need it.

Peanuts, however, are fast to offer, widely available, relatively inexpensive, a great source of fat and protein, and suitable for many winter birds, making them the ideal, easy treat for birds whenever snow flies.

Black-Capped Chickadee With Peanut Heart - Photo by USFWS Midwest Region
Black-Capped Chickadee With Peanut Heart – Photo by USFWS Midwest Region

Birds That Eat Peanuts

Many different birds will flock to peanuts, including:

  • Jays, crows, and ravens
  • Magpies
  • Woodpeckers
  • Nuthatches and creepers
  • Chickadees, titmice and tits
  • Wrens
  • Doves
  • Towhees and sparrows
  • Cardinals and pyrrhuloxia

Many of these birds stay in their preferred ranges year-round, and the high-fat, high-protein treat of peanuts will be a welcome meal when temperatures drop.

Offering Peanuts to Birds

Peanuts are among the easiest foods to offer birds. Any type of peanut – whole, in-the-shell nut, shelled peanut hearts, crushed peanut chips, even peanut butter – is ideal for birds, but you should never offer any salted, candy-coated, or spicy nuts, as those additives are not suitable for birds. Raw peanuts can be offered, or the nuts can be roasted if preferred (roasted peanuts will not sprout if they are cached by an industrious bird).

Peanuts can be easily offered loose and free by tossing handfuls on the ground, or putting nuts on a deck railing, patio table, nearby stump, small dish, or tray feeder. Be aware, however, that squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and other visitors are just as nutty about peanuts as birds can be, and freely offered peanuts may not always be taken by birds alone.

Shelled Raw Peanuts - Photo by Stacy
Shelled Raw Peanuts – Photo by Stacy

Specialized feeders are available just for peanuts, often with a cage, twist, or spring-like design and birds will peck, poke, and prod at the nuts to extract each crunchy morsel. Peanut hearts require a feeder with smaller mesh or openings than feeders used for whole, in-shell nuts, but the concept is the same. Hopper feeders with larger openings can also hold peanut hearts or chips, but they should be checked regularly to be sure they don’t stick or clog.

Where to Buy Peanuts

Many wild bird stores offer bird-friendly peanuts for sale, or you can check local farm and agricultural supply stores for larger bags of bulk peanuts for wildlife, including birds. Many grocery stores also have roasted peanuts for sale in smaller, pantry-friendly sizes, and while they may be more expensive overall, it’s convenient to be able to pick up a few peanuts for the birds along with your regular grocery shopping. Just be sure to get unflavored, unsalted nuts for your feathered friends, though any brand will do.

Online retailers often offer the best deals for buying larger quantities of peanuts. You can easily have a full winter’s supply shipped right to your door so you never run out and leave your birds wondering where the next treat may be (don’t worry, they won’t starve).

In honor of National Bird Feeding Month, knowing that this is the very best time to feed birds peanuts, Wakefield Peanut Company (a division of Monroe Systems for Business) is offering a special deal for Be Your Own Birder readers – 10% off with the code BYOB on any peanut sales! They offer high quality raw peanuts, both whole and shelled, in bulk quantities for better savings. Shipping is included in the product price as well, making these peanuts a great deal for birders and birds alike. This special discount is only available through February 29, 2020, however, so be sure to take advantage of the savings and offer your birds a treat they’ll appreciate during this coldest part of winter.

5 thoughts on “Peanuts Are the Perfect Winter Bird Food

  1. Karen Kawa

    I frequently put peanuts out for the birds. White breasted nuthatches, chickadees, red bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers and downy woodpeckers all visit the peanut feeder. Blue jays and cardinals also enjoy them from the tray feeder.

  2. Ed

    According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, raw peanuts for wild birds should be avoided, yet you feature THREE photos of raw not roasted peanuts.

    1. Mayntz Post author

      The concern about raw peanuts for wild birds is generally related to the presence of mold, bacteria, or other contamination. Raw peanuts from a reputable source and that are fed responsibly – not allowed to rot in a feeder uneaten, for example – aren’t a problem for wild birds. They eat all sorts of raw nuts, including raw peanuts, all the time, with no verifiable, scientific evidence of any harmful effects. Please see this statement from Wild Birds Unlimited (which cites their research). Thanks!

  3. Jessica wiliam

    I saw some birds eat peanuts such as doves, and even wild birds. The edible seeds of peanuts, which are high in protein and fiber, are an excellent source of wholesome nutrition for birds, especially during winter.

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