Want to Make Your Wild Birds Happy? Feed Them Nuts!
Best Nuts to Feed Wild Birds
Local birds as well as those ‘just passing through’ on their migratory journeys will greatly benefit from various nuts. The healthy oils keep flight feathers in excellent condition. And for migrants, the extra energy boost helps fuel their journeys southward.
Best Nuts to Feed Wild Birds:
- Hickory Nuts
- Hazel Nuts
- Pistachio Nuts
- Chunky Peanut Butter* (see *About Feeding Peanut Butter to Wild Birds below)
Slap Chop Those Nuts!
Unsalted is best because most birds cannot digest or assimilate large amounts of salt.
Small birds that I like to call ‘little beaks’, which include Chickadees, Titmice, Sparrows, Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers, enjoy bits and pieces of nuts, as well as peanut butter and other nut butters*.
To chop up the nuts into small bits, I use a ‘slap-chopper’ device. It works very well to make short work of an otherwise tedious task. Plus, there’s something about slapping that chopper that helps relieve tension!
Store Nuts In a Cool, Dry Place
Alternatively, you can buy nuts already chopped into small pieces. They are more expensive, but you can usually find them on sale around the holidays. Also, whole nuts can be bought in bulk at a cheaper rate.
Store them in a dry sealed container to keep oils from becoming rancid; and to keep curious critters from eating them before the birds get a chance. I use a clean galvanized can with a secure lid (different sizes are available in big box hardware and discount stores), and I store it in my unheated garage.
Crack the Nut Shells to Make It Easier For Your Birds
Larger birds like Hairy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays enjoy shelled peanuts and other nuts. I sometimes crack the peanut shells just by squeezing several of them together in my hand; I ‘get them started’ so the birds can carry off their treasures like trophies, and still be able to open them easily.
My red-bellied woodpeckers are especially fond of picking out the whole unshelled peanuts or other nuts, and flying to a nearby oak tree. There they wedge the nut between pieces of bark and bang on the shell, breaking off pieces as they work towards the oil-rich center.
Blue Jays Hide and Then Seek Nuts
Research has shown that blue jays hide the nuts they find just like squirrels. They also have excellent memories, so they can retrieve the nuts when tummies rumble.
Squirrels Love Nuts, Too
Speaking of squirrels, these critters are major nut lovers in search of a free meal, courtesy of the birds. In order to keep them away from the treats intended for my feathered friends, I give the squirrels a feeder of their own.
A nut box will hold quite a few whole unshelled peanuts; the squirrel has to figure out how to access the contents. Industrious and clever, they soon puzzle it out and find their treats. The top of the box shuts each time, so it does require patience and focus on the task at hand.
While my bushy-tailed rodents are busy at their own nut feeder, the birds are free to eat their nuts without interruption.
You will find it hard not to chuckle at the persistent squirrel in Bryson Syliboy's short video that follows. Listen to all the vocalizations this cute little squirrel makes as it works to break into the nut!
Cute Squirrel Video
More Perks to Feeding Nuts to Birds
The usual feeder hogs don’t seem to gravitate to that particular snack as much as they do to sunflower seeds. Grackles, for instance, have rather soft beaks. Nuts are off their menu for that reason. Pigeons and doves don’t open unshelled nuts, but they do like nutmeats and kernels.
Wild Turkeys are fascination birds. Learn more about their preferred habitats, food and nesting behaviors:
Gather and Save Acorns
If you have mature oak trees as I do, you can gather acorns in late summer and early fall to feed your wild birds when snow covers the ground.
Foraging birds like turkeys will enjoy cracked or whole acorns, especially when they no longer have access to bare ground. I scatter them right on top of the snow
**Note: it is best to store acorns in a dry, cool place. Be sure the nuts are dry before storing them, otherwise they may mold and will be useless as food.
Best Nut Feeders
I have found the best way to feed nuts to birds is to add them to a flat surface, a tray feeder, or to a platform feeder. There are also specialty feeders just for serving whole nuts to your birds.
One that I particularly like is a wire wreath into which you can add whole unshelled peanuts. I enjoy watching the woodpeckers work at the nuts while perched on the side of the wreath. Sometimes they peck away at a certain peanut, and other times they pull the whole nut out and fly off with it.
There are rectangular, round and square feeders made with wire mesh that have large enough holes to accommodate different nutmeats, and smaller nuts like peanut halves.
Tube feeders with mesh made just for nutmeats are available as well.
Whole Peanut Wreath
Nuts and Feeders
Nuts Birds Enjoy
Nut Feeder to Use
Tray Feeder or Peanut Wreath
Best if Scattered on Top of Snow
Shelled or Chopped Nuts and Nutmeats
Mesh Feeders, Wooden or Tube Style
Whole Walnuts, Hazel Nuts, Etc.
Platform or Tray Feeder
Some Disadvantages to Feeding Nuts
Keep in mind that offering nuts to birds comes with some disadvantages. For one thing, shells can accumulate under your feeder and make a mess. It’s an easy task, though, to rake the shells into a pile and add them to a compost heap; or use a leaf vacuum to clean up the area.
- Remember that nuts will leave oily residue when they come in contact with decks, porch floors and railings, or patio furniture. Additionally, it would be wise to take note of the flight paths of birds to and from your feeders. You don’t want a clothesline full of clean sheets to be plastered! So hang your nut and seed feeders accordingly.
- Also, I would not recommend offering nuts in the spring or summertime. First of all, hot sun and warmer temperatures will tend to make the oils go rancid. Secondly, young nestlings and fledglings should not be fed pieces of nutmeats that have sharp edges, and might irritate or lodge in their tiny throats.
Normally, the baby birds will be fed insects by their parents because they need the protein to grow quickly and develop strong flight muscles. It isn’t very likely they would even try nuts at that age. But it is better to be safe than sorry. Save the nutty treasures for colder months, and you can’t go wrong.
*About Feeding Peanut Butter to Wild Birds
There are 2 distinct schools of thought about feeding peanut butter to birds. One absolutely forbids its use because the idea is that peanut butter will stick to their throats and choke them.
However, I belong to the group that advocates feeding chunky peanut butter to birds. In my almost 40 years of observing and feeding wild birds, I have found that each bird takes a tiny amount of peanut butter and then retreats to a branch. There they poke their treasure in between pieces of bark. That way they can nip tiny bits of it with their beaks. I have never seen a bird take a large glob, nor have I ever observed any bird choking or struggling to ingest this substance.
Birds are much smarter than most people think. But if you are still wary of feeding peanut butter to your birds, by all means stir in some cornmeal. Both corn meal and peanut butter are nutritious and readily taken by many backyard birds.
Fruit & Nut Butters for Birds
Besides peanut butter, I have offered almond butter, and apple butters to my avian visitors. My suet log makes a great place to present these food sources to them. Sometimes I mix and match a variety of butters in different holes in the log. Titmice seem to like the apple butter and peanut butter the best, while the nuthatches enjoy almond, peanut and pumpkin butters. It’s fun to experiment and find out which bird prefers what food.
Homemade Apple Butter Recipe
- Apple Butter: How to make homemade apple butter, easily! (with simple directions, recipe, and with p
Homemade apple butter is easy to make with these fully illustrated, complete, simple recipe and directions. No toiling over a hot stove, no endless stirrring. This recipe shows you how to can the apple butter, store it in the fridge or freezer, and h
Use a Suet Log for Serving Fruit & Nut Butters
Suet logs are just one way to serve these foods. Another is to slather the nut butter on a pine cone that has a wire hanger. To make the hanger, use wire cutters to snip a 12” length of flexible wire, and wind one end around the top scales of the pine cone. Secure by twisting the end. Then make a loop on the other end of the wire that will be large enough to fit over a tree branch.
Slather Nut or Fruit Butters Onto Pine Cones
As a treat during the wintertime, I often hang several pine cones over different pine or shrub branches. Both the birds and the squirrels enjoy finding these nutritious gifts. Take care that you position your pine cones and nut butter feeders so that the oils do not come in contact with your outdoor furniture or deck or patio wood. The oils will be very hard to remove from those surfaces.
Keep Birds Healthy By Feeding Them Nuts
Feeding oil-rich nuts to birds in cold months can greatly improve their overall health and survival rate. Nuts provide energy, and extra fat for insurance against frigid winter temperatures. Make your wild birds very happy by adding a variety of nuts and/or nut butters to your bird feeding menu. Don’t be surprised if you attract wild birds you may never have seen before!
More by this Author
If woodpeckers are causing damage to your house, and driving you crazy with their drumming, then help is here! Find out why they do it, and how to stop them.
If the price of black oil sunflower seed has discouraged you from feeding your backyard birds, consider using some or all of my 9 ways to stretch your bird seed dollar. Some of them may even surprise you!
Beautiful, elegant and intelligent, owls are also very efficient at reducing rodent populations. That makes them a gardener’s best friend. Learn how to attract these amazing birds to your backyard.