Peanuts are probably the most familiar food to feed wild birds, except maybe for bread! And feeding birds peanuts is a great way to enjoy the antics and acrobatics of birds on your feeders.
Did you know however, that a peanut is not actually a nut at all?! Peanuts are legumes, so related to peas and beans rather than nuts. Unlike ‘other’ nuts, they do not grow on trees but are actually tubers and grow much like potatoes.
Why feed peanuts to birds?
Peanuts are highly nutritious, being rich in protein, essential fat and natural oils. They are therefore a great source of energy, especially in winter when natural food is harder to find.
What type of peanuts to feed?
Always provide peanuts that are suitable for human consumption, and never feed salted, dry-roasted or other flavoured peanuts. Although some garden birds can tolerate a small quantity of salt, larger amounts can be fatal.
Peanuts must be transported and stored in a cool and dry place. A naturally occurring fungus, Asperillus flavus, can develop in hot or humid conditions and this releases aflatoxin, a poisonous carcinogen that can be extremely harmful for birds and indeed humans. Since peanuts are grown outside of Europe and need to be transported a long distance there is a considerable risk of aflatoxin infection with poorer quality stocks. We therefore recommend only buying from approved suppliers.
How to provide peanuts?
Whole peanuts should always be provided in a wire mesh feeder so that birds can only take small pieces rather than whole nuts and there is little risk of them choking. This is especially important during the breeding season when adult birds may feed them to their chicks.
Broken or chopped peanuts can also be fed to birds, and this attracts a wider variety of species which will not typically use a mesh feeder. Scatter them on a bird table or the ground, either on their own or maybe mixed with seed. Ensure they are in very small pieces to avoid a choking hazard (for birds and other wildlife).
You can also provide peanuts in the shell, i.e. ‘monkey nuts’. Larger birds such as jays will take these, whilst from a mesh feeder you will get entertainment from watching other species work out how to get in to the nut! You can also string them up and hang them from a tree, although you might find them quickly disappearing to squirrels! Did you know that some birds are known to ‘weigh’ peanuts and listen to the sound the nut makes in the shell? Scientists in Arizona found that Mexican Jays do this and have a preference for the heavier ones, presumably finding them better value for less effort!
When you first put out peanuts, start by half-filling the feeders. If birds are slow to arrive there can be a risk of peanuts going mouldy, especially in warm or wet weather. Once they have found them though, you may well be refilling your feeders daily!.
Which birds like peanuts?
A wide variety of species will eat peanuts. The most obvious are tits, especially Blue, Great and Coal, Greenfinches, House Sparrows and Starlings. With luck you might attract Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins and Jays (which seem able to seek out peanuts from miles away!). All of these will come to mesh feeders. Other birds will enjoy broken peanuts from the ground or bird table, including Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks.
Let us know in the comments below which birds you have eating peanuts, and let’s see how many we can get!