Peanuts in the Shell vs. Shelled Peanuts for Birds

Updated: Sep. 19, 2023

One commonly asked bird feeding question is what types of backyard birds can eat peanuts in the shell and shelled peanuts.

Can Birds Eat Peanuts?

steller's jay with peanutCourtesy Keith Mcclellan
In the western states, Steller’s jays are big fans of peanuts in the shell.

You are probably already offering sunflower seed, safflower seed or nyjer seed in your feeders. But did you know that birds can also eat peanuts? When giving presentations on bird feeding, I’m often asked about which type of peanuts people should use in their feeders. People typically aren’t sure which birds prefer each type of peanut, and they want to be sure to offer the birds the type that will be most popular. Here is a quick guide to the birds that prefer shelled peanuts and peanuts in the shell.

Learn how to make a DIY bird feeder for peanuts.

Peanuts in the Shell for Birds

red bellied woodpecker with peanutCourtesy Lisa Nasta
Red-bellied woodpecker eating a peanut in the shell

Blue jays and other jay species in the United States love peanuts in the shell. These species are the reason that many people choose to offer this type of peanut.

In addition to blue jays, I’ve regularly seen red-bellied woodpeckers enjoy peanuts in the shell. Other species will take these peanuts from time to time, but they are a bit hard to crack open for many of the smaller birds.

One common problem with feeding peanuts in the shell is that squirrels are crazy about them. If you choose to feed any type of peanut, be prepared to deal with squirrels and other critters.

Shelled Peanuts for Birds

red breasted nuthatch, shelled peanuts for birdsCourtesy Sondra Oliver
A red-breasted nuthatch visits a shelled peanut bird feeder.

I personally think that shelled peanuts for birds are the better type of peanut to offer. Since they’ve been shelled, all of the birds are able to eat it without too much trouble. Many species will take advantage of the high protein content of peanuts especially during times of very cold temperatures. Some of the most common species that make use of my shelled peanut feeder are chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.

Not only do those species regularly use the feeder, I’ve seen almost all of the birds that frequent my bird feeders eat a peanut or two at some point. You really never know what backyard species might stop by for a shelled peanut!

Psst—did you know that birds also eat peanut butter!

Are Roasted Peanuts Safe for Birds?

Cardinal birds eat PeanutsGary Carter / Getty Images
Male northern cardinal eating whole peanuts

“Can I use unsalted, roasted peanuts in my bird feeders?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Toby Fenci.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Peanuts are an excellent food for birds, providing a great source of protein. Many of our most beloved birds are attracted to peanuts, including woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays. However, salted peanuts (including those salted in the shell) aren’t safe for birds, as birds can’t metabolize salt the way humans do.

Roasted peanuts are problematic, since it’s hard to be sure how they were prepared and whether oils or salts were used in the process. It’s best to purchase raw peanuts specifically intended and packaged as bird food.”

Learn how to grow peanuts (and nutty peanut facts!)