Nuts are a popular food source for many birds, but why? What nutrition do different nuts offer, and which birds are most likely to visit bird feeders and bird-friendly landscaping where nuts are available?
Nuts are a healthy source of fat to keep both birds' skin and feathers healthy, and as a high-calorie food, provide birds plenty of energy for all their daily activities. Nuts are especially popular as a winter bird food because they are long-lasting and easy to cache. Many birds that thrive on a diet of nuts will spend weeks or months in autumn storing nuts by filling up cavities, niches in bark, small ground hollows or other hiding places with ripe nuts, and they will return to those caches when other food sources are scarce. As a side benefit, uneaten nut caches often sprout into new trees and bushes that provide even more food for birds and other wildlife in the future.
Many different types of nuts are popular foods for birds, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Hickory nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
The exact birds that eat different nuts varies depending on their natural diet, bill shape and dietary needs, as well as what nuts are readily available in their habitat. Nuts can be a very reliable food source, and dozens of bird species will sample them.
Bird Species That Eat Nuts
Woodland bird species are the most common avian nut consumers because they are accustomed to the food source and are readily adapted to forage for nuts easily, as well as cache an uneaten supply for winter. The most popular birds that eat nuts include:
- American robin
- Acorn woodpecker
- Black-billed magpie
- Black-capped chickadee
- Blue jay
- Blue tit
- Brown creeper
- Carolina wren
- Clark's nutcracker
- Common grackle
- Dark-eyed junco
- Eastern towhee
- Florida scrub-jay
- Great spotted woodpecker
- Hairy woodpecker
- Long-tailed tit
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Red-breasted nuthatch
- Spotted towhee
- Steller's jay
- Tufted titmouse
- Western scrub-jay
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Wild turkey
- Wood duck
While these species are all known nut-eaters, many other species will also sample nuts, especially if they are offered at feeders. Depending on the type of nut, feeder style and nut size, such as whether whole nuts, shelled nuts, nut pieces or other nut products like peanut butter are offered, different woodpeckers, tits, jays, chickadees and wrens will all try feeding on nuts.
Attracting Birds With Nuts
Nuts are a good food to offer birds and can provide hours of feeder entertainment as birds wrestle with large nuts and work to crack the heavy shells to feed. To offer birds nuts at the feeders, try these tips to appeal to a wider range of nut-eating bird species...
- Only offer raw or roasted nuts without any additional salt or seasonings. Raw nuts from a reputable birdseed dealer are best, but if sprouting nuts are a problem, choosing roasted, unsalted nuts can be a suitable alternative.
- Offer nuts in a tray or platform feeder or a specialized nut feeder with holes wide enough for birds to easily access the nuts.
- Remove spent hulls of nuts to give birds easier access to whole or hulled nuts at feeders and to avoid excessive debris that can spoil and rot, creating an unhealthy feeding area.
- Use baffles, cages or other squirrel-proof techniques to keep the feeder safe for birds while discouraging other types of wildlife that will feed on nuts.
- If offering nuts in their shells, crack a few shells or shell a few whole nuts to expose the meat so smaller birds with less powerful bills can still sample the treat. Similarly, crush a few nuts to create smaller pieces for small birds to eat.
- Freeze excess nuts to keep them fresh to offer at a later time. Nuts can go rancid in warm climates, and spoiled nuts are less healthy and less appealing to birds.
- Consider planting nut-bearing trees or bushes to create a natural, renewable food source for backyard birds that enjoy nuts, but be sure to choose native varieties birds will be readily familiar with.
- Leave leaf litter from nut-bearing trees on the ground to allow birds to forage on the fallen bounty in autumn and winter.
- Consider adding a nut-blend suet or other nutty products such as peanut butter or nut-and-birdseed mixes to the backyard buffet for more sources of nuts backyard birds can enjoy.
Many different bird species readily feed on nuts, and learning which bird species prefer nuts and which nuts are best to offer can help backyard birders take advantage of this healthy and delicious treat to attract even more birds to their backyard feeders.
Photo – Florida Scrub-Jay With Acorns © Lauren Mitchell