Be Your Own Birder

Playing Peanut Games With Birds

Peanuts are an indisputable favorite for many birds – woodpeckers, jays, titmice, wrens, chickadees, magpies, nuthatches, and many other species will collect, crack open, and even cache as many peanuts as possible. But have you played games with your peanut-loving birds?

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

How Peanuts Help Birds

Peanuts and other nuts are more than just a healthy food choice for birds – they can actually help birds build critical survival skills. As birds manipulate nuts, they strengthen their bills and the fine motor skills and musculature necessary to crack shells, allowing them to access more challenging food sources. Using their feet and talons to hold the nut as they crack it open or nibble off bits of nut meat improves balance, manipulation skills, and strength, while caching the nuts helps build memory and spatial orientation. All of these skills are vital to help birds take advantage of more foods and prepares them to survive in different conditions.

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

Playing Games With Peanuts

Birders can create even more learning opportunities for birds to build skills by engaging in nutty peanut games. Because birds love peanuts so much, they’ll go to great lengths to get more of the nuts, and that gives birders the chance to help birds stretch their mental muscles just as much as their physical ones. Fun and helpful games to play with birds include…

  • Using spring-style or mesh feeders to offer peanuts, which requires the birds to manipulate the nuts more precisely to wriggle them out of holes. Birds may also perch and crack open nuts right on the feeder, improving their endurance and agility while feeding in unusual positions and postures.
  • Hiding peanuts in unique spots throughout the yard, encouraging birds to explore more spaces as they search for their favorite foods. Balancing peanuts on different surfaces (windowsills, fences, patio furniture, etc.) or hiding them in the crooks of branches or small knotholes is a great option.
  • Offering peanuts in different ways, such as adding peanut butter to a bird feeding station, mixing peanut hearts and chips in with homemade suet, or creating pine cone bird feeders smeared with peanut butter. This will encourage birds to try different food sources and expand their diets.
Downy Woodpecker on a Peanut Feeder - Photo by fishhawk
Downy Woodpecker on a Peanut Feeder – Photo by fishhawk

The more ways birds have to explore peanuts, the more skills they will develop and the more agile and adventurous they will be come. This can be great entertainment – I love to watch just how long it may take my blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers to find the peanuts I’ve hidden along the fence or tucked into the corner of the windowsill outside my office. Over time, the jays have become so skilled at finding nuts, they’ve even learned how to raid the squirrels’ feeder to get more nuts of their own! Try timing your birds, catching photos of the fun, or inventing new challenges for them to conquer, and both you and the birds will go nuts for peanut games!

Birdseed Mix With Peanuts - Photo by Hazen
Birdseed Mix With Peanuts – Photo by Hazen

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