Feeding Peanuts to Backyard Birds

Last Updated on March 30, 2021 by Nancie

Blue Jay Takes a Peanut From a Feeder

Peanuts are loved by many backyard birds. Full of protein and fat, peanuts are a great source of energy. Here are three ways I feed birds peanuts in the feeders in my yard.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Raw Peanuts in the Shell
Raw Peanuts in the Shell

1) Feed Birds Whole Peanuts in the Shell

Blue Jays Eating Peanuts

In my yard, Blue Jays love, love, love peanuts. So once a day, I put two or three handfuls of raw, unsalted peanuts in the shell into a hanging platform feeder. As soon as the Blue Jays see they are there, they announce their find loudly to the world from a nearby tree branch.

Then the first jay swoops down to pick out the biggest peanut he can find. Or he’ll stuff a couple smaller peanuts one after the other into his mouth. He’ll then fly off with it to eat or cache. Because Blue Jays typically hang out in family groups, I’ll usually see three to seven taking turns, each flying from a tree branch, grabbing a peanut and flying off. It’s like watching planes lined up on a runway. They will usually keep returning until they are all gone.

Blue Jays Bickering Over Peanuts
Blue Jays Bickering Over Peanuts

While mostly they take turns, there is sometimes a little squabbling as one bird makes it clear to another that HE will choose first and that they must wait their turn.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker on a Feeder Grabs a Peanut
Red-Bellied Woodpecker Grabs a Peanut

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers Eating Peanuts

Peanuts are also popular with Red-Bellied Woodpeckers who will almost always snag one whenever I put peanuts out. They will dangle a little awkwardly on the side of the hanging feeder for a minute or two, keeping an eye on the Blue Jays. While jays can be arrogant, they seem to respect the red-bellied’s very sharp beak and will hold back a little when she is on the feeder. They let her pick a peanut and fly off with it before continuing their otherwise relentless cycle of snatching up all the peanuts one after another.

Other Birds Eating Peanuts

In my yard, there are only two other birds that typically try for peanuts in the shell. Common Grackles, who start hanging around in the deep winter and early spring, will also try for a peanut, although typically the jay family groups are more dominant, so the grackles don’t always get one.

Tufted Titmouse on Feeder Looking For a Peanut
Tufted Titmouse Looking For a Peanut

The other bird that will try to snag a peanut is the Tufted Titmouse. If the jays are coming and going too fast, the titmouse might not get a peanut. But if the jays’ arrivals and departures are spread out a bit, sometimes a timouse will time it right to grab a peanut and fly off with it. It’s cool to watch these much smaller birds flying off with peanuts that seem much too big for them to carry.

Also in some years, a pair of Fish Crows will nest in the back corner of the yard. While too large for the hanging feeder, if I put a few peanuts on the back bench when one of the Fish Crows is around, she may snag one.

Peanuts are also much loved by squirrels. Since I’m not currently feeding squirrels in my yard, I always make sure to put the peanuts in a hanging feeder on a well-baffled pole.

Buying Peanuts in the Shell: I buy my peanuts in a big twenty pound bag from my local bird store. (Buying in bulk saves a few dollars each time.) Putting a few handfuls out each day, they last a couple months. I store them in a big plastic bin in my basement.

Peanut Splits
Peanut Splits

2) Feed Birds Unshelled Peanut Splits

In a bid to give the titmice more of a chance at getting a peanut, I started also putting out unshelled peanut splits. Because I wanted to offer these smaller peanut pieces to smaller birds, I didn’t want to put them into a feeder that larger, more dominant birds could access. This meant I needed to put it in a caged feeder.

Peanuts in a Cage Mealworm Feeder

Rather than purchase a feeder just for this narrow purpose, I decided to try a few peanut splits with the dried mealworms in the caged mealworm feeder. You may remember that earlier this year, I hacked my Erva Mealworm Feeder, swapping out the little glass bowl inside for a larger plastic carryout container. This allowed me to put more dried mealworms into the feeder and to keep more out of reach of annoying European Starlings.

Eastern Bluebird in the Mealworm Feeder
Eastern Bluebird in the Mealworm Feeder

Dried mealworms are more popular with Eastern Bluebirds in cooler months when bugs and other foods are harder to find. During spring nesting and then when their young fledged, we often saw bluebirds at this feeder but only rarely during warm summer and early fall months. Now that the weather is colder, bluebirds again stop by a couple times a day.

Carolina Wrens in the yard also typically grab dried mealworms a few times a day year-round. But otherwise, this feeder is typically pretty quiet.

Titmouse with Peanut Split
Titmouse with Peanut Split

Tufted Titmouse Eating Peanuts

I got a small bag of raw unsalted peanut splits from the local bird store and tossed a few in with the dried mealworms. Within an hour, a Tufted Titmouse discovered them. I had never seen one on this feeder before, but she spotted the peanuts while getting seed from a feeder next to it.

On that first day, the titmice were so enthusiastic, that one or two of them repeatedly went back and forth from feeder to their cache. As I’ve tried to keep at least a dozen splits in the feeder all the time now, they’ve calmed down a bit, spending more time gathering sunflower and safflower seed as well as the occasional peanut split.

Carolina Wren on Mealworm Feeder
Carolina Wren on Mealworm Feeder

Carolina Wrens & Red-Breasted Nuthatches Eating Peanuts

But the titmice aren’t the only peanut fans among the smaller birds. The Carolina Wrens also seem quite pleased with the addition of the peanut splits to this feeder. They still come for dried mealworms, but they also will often fly off with a peanut split. And when a Red-Breasted Nuthatch settled into the yard this winter, he started grabbing a peanut every now and then too.

Other Birds May Eat Peanuts

So far, I haven’t seen White-Breasted Nuthatches in this feeder. Although they like nuts, I’m guessing the feeder’s shape and arrangement and the plastic container inside isn’t the well suited to their more vertical approach to eating. I also haven’t seen Carolina Chickadees taking peanuts splits so far. It will be interesting to see if other birds start going for the peanuts.

On the other hand, the local Eastern Bluebirds seem unbothered by the addition of the peanuts. The birds grabbing peanut splits from this feeder tend to be focused on quickly getting in and out. All these birds typically seem willing to wait their turn, so it’s working out well.

Buying Split Peanuts: I bought a 5 lb bag of peanuts splits at my local bird store. Because these go into a protected cage feeder and I only put out enough for a couple days at a time, this bag lasted many weeks.

Nutsie Seed Cake
Nutsie Seed Cake

3) Feed Birds Nutsie Le Petit Seed Cake

The final way I offer peanuts is a Nutsie Seed Cake from Pine Tree Farms. Available in two sizes, the smaller “Le Petite” cake fits perfectly in a regular suet feeder. Nutsie cakes are made of mixed tree nuts, peanuts, sunflower hearts, pecans, dried fruit and gelatin.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Eating Nutsie Seed Cake
Red-Bellied Woodpecker Eating Nutsie Seed Cake

I have three suet feeders in my back yard and two in the front. Typically one of the back feeders holds a Nutsie cake. It tends to appeal to the same birds that are year-round regulars on suet cakes. In my yard that most often means Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens and White-Breasted Nuthatches. Other birds will sometimes give these blocks a try, either for the nuts or the seed included in the mix. (Sometimes it isn’t always clear what a bird is picking out of the mix.) This is a super easy way to offer nuts to clinging birds.

Squirrels really love Nutsie cakes too, so if you aren’t intentionally trying to feed squirrels, I’d strongly recommend hanging them from a baffled pole out of squirrel jumping distance. (When I was experimenting with feeding squirrels to distract them from the bird feeders, I offered these to squirrels, so I know they like these and will go to great lengths to get to them.)

Buying Nutsie Cakes: I purchase Nutsie cakes at my local bird store, although they can also be bought on Amazon. A single cake will last quite awhile. Depending on the time of year, it could last weeks or a couple months.

Suet Block Containing Peanut
Suet Block Containing Peanut

Other Ways to Feed Peanuts to Backyard Birds

These are not the only ways to feed peanuts to backyard birds. For example, some seed mixes include peanut chips. Or you might buy peanuts separately and add them to other seed to make your own custom mix. This might be offered in a platform or hopper feeder or in a tube feeder (as long as the tube ports are big enough to accommodate the peanut size.)

I’ve also seen wire mesh feeders that you can fill with peanuts. Here, birds won’t be able to grab a whole nut, but will instead peck out a little bit at a time to eat. I haven’t tried this, so I can’t comment on how it works. I’m thinking you’d want to try to minimize the chance of the peanuts getting wet so they won’t mold. A small feeder that doesn’t hold a large number of peanuts with a protective baffle or rain guard over the feeder might be helpful here.

Also, some suet blocks also contain peanuts and/or peanut butter. Since many of the same birds like suet and peanuts, you’ll be making them doubly happy.

How NOT to Feed Peanuts to Backyard Birds

While some backyard birds love peanuts, make sure you are ONLY offering peanuts and not other ingredients like salt, sugar, chocolate, etc. A handful of unsalted peanuts is fine, but not salted or spiced peanuts or chocolate coated peanut treats for example. So no cake, cookies or candy containing peanuts.

Try Feeding Peanuts to Backyard Birds

If you enjoy feeding birds, give peanuts a try. Not only will you be providing protein and a good source of energy rich fat, but watching birds snagging them is endlessly entertaining to watch. Pick the approach that suits birds in your yard.

Do you put out peanuts in your yard? How do you offer them? What birds do you see going for the peanuts in your area?


Learn More About Birds That Eat Peanuts:

Feederwatch Food & Feeder Preferences of Common Feeder Birds

How to Choose Birdseed

How to Buy Birdseed: FAQs

Where to Buy Birdseed

Storing Birdseed : Three Easy Ways

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13 thoughts on “Feeding Peanuts to Backyard Birds

  1. only thing bad about peanuts in my yard are the European starlings…not only do they make a mess, they finish off any food faster than squirrels….and once starlings are around, they do not leave until all the food is gone…oh well

    1. Hi Brian,

      Yes. European Starlings are a huge pain. The best solution I’ve found is to put the food inside a cage type feeder. (But of course that means other large birds are left out too.)


  2. I buy 20# bags of peanuts for birds without the shell and put them on platform feeders and my deck rail. I use peanuts with shells in feeders in the yard but find the ones without shells so much cleaner on the deck plus I get to enjoy the birds close up. In the summer I can sit out and they come right up to get the peanuts (with dogs sitting right beside me).

    I get all the birds mentioned except magpies but I also get lots of woodpeckers/flickers – they have to tilt their heads to pick them up but they love them.

    1. Hi Judy,
      Sounds wonderful! Birds seem so pleased to get a peanut. All that energy in one place! It’s great that you have a close up view.

      I find that the birds in my yard going for the peanuts usually grab a nut and fly off with it to eat or cache. The leftover shells are spread out so far and wide that it doesn’t cause a mess. But I can definitely see how shells collecting on a deck could be a problem.


  3. Hiya; I accidentally was shipped salted peanuts in the shell in bulk. They have been eating them all day. The jays and the wood peckers and the tits. I just read that salted peanuts can kill them! I feel sooo bad J. I am now waiting on a new bulk order of no salt peanuts.

    1. Hi Glenn,
      Yes, you really do want to avoid feeding birds salt as too much salt can kill them. So it is good that you stopped offering the salted peanuts and are getting no salt peanuts instead.

      In the meantime, while some of the peanuts may have been eaten today, at least some of these birds are likely to have cached the peanuts. So maybe they ate a few and cached more. I’m not sure how much salt those particular peanuts had on them, as I’d think that might vary by source. So it’s hard to say if an individual bird ingested enough salt to be harmful. But hopefully if the birds cached them, they at least won’t be eating them all at once. In my yard, Blue Jays and Tufted Titmouses are big peanut cachers. They tend to eat a variety of foods and peanuts seem especially popular for caching. I’m not sure about woodpeckers though. (It might vary by particular woodpecker species.)

      One suggestion: I honestly don’t know if this is the same for birds, but I believe that lots of water can help people flush out excess salt. So my suggestion is to make sure that you have lots of fresh clean water available for the birds. It may not help, but it certainly won’t hurt.

      Good luck!

    1. Hi Linda,
      I don’t believe that finches are peanut eaters. I’ve never seen finches in my yard show any interest in peanuts. They are more into sunflower and nyjer seed. Cardinals are supposed to like peanuts although I’ve only seen a cardinal take a peanut in the shell twice in my yard. (The peanuts in the shell are in a cardinal accessible feeder but the peanut splits are inside a caged feeder that they can’t access.)

      My post on “Seed Choice: What Do Backyard Birds Eat?” lists birds that eat peanuts in my own yard here in Maryland. I don’t have personal experience with southwestern birds though. Some birds on my list may overlap with yours but not all. You might want to check out Cornell’s Feeder Watch info pages. They have an interactive page on common feeder birds which you can filter by your region of the country, the food (in this case peanuts) and feeder type to see which birds in your area fit that combination. Here is the link: https://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/

      Good wishes,

  4. 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.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Yes, some backyard birds do like eating peanuts very much. Not all species eat them, but it’s definitely worth trying peanuts.

  5. I feed in shell peanuts to squirrels and the blue jays. I have a round wreath-like peanut feeder. It gets emptied within a couple of hours by about 5 jays. I wonder whether I’m over feeding them. Are the peanuts going to rot in the cache? Certainly I’ve found old peanuts among my garden plants that the squirrels didn’t retrieve.

    1. Hi Celeste,
      We sometimes find cached peanuts when we are working in the yard but haven’t found any that rotted. I think the birds keep track of them fairly well . . . and the squirrels sometimes steal some if they find a cache as well. I do find that the jays don’t tend to come to the feeder and eat one peanut right there. More typically they get all excited and take turns making runs at the feeding and flying off with them, repeating until the peanuts are all gone. Sounds like what your jays are doing.

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