Pecans are nuts from a tree native to the United States. Coming from the tree Carya illinoinensis, they were known as a food source to Native Americans but were only cultivated commercially from the 1880s.
These nuts can be a great choice for gardeners looking to grow food sustainably at home. We know these are a great food source for humans, but are they also suitable for birds?
Can birds eat pecans? Are pecans a beneficial food source for our feathered friends? If so, how should we feed them to the wild birds in our gardens?
Read on to find the answers to these questions, and for advice that will help you protect and aid your avian visitors.
Do Birds Eat Pecans?
Many wild birds eat pecans in the wild, either from the trees as the outer casings break open, or when these fall from a tree.
Those who try to grow pecans in their gardens often find that they share their harvest with the wildlife around them. Squirrels are often pecan ‘thieves’, and they can also be eaten by other nut-loving mammals. Birds such as crows and blue jays often also eat pecans once the shells split.
Many backyard birds that eat nuts and rich seeds will appreciate pecans if these are shelled and offered on a bird table or in a bird feeder too. If the nuts are crushed, an even wider range of birds will take advantage of pecans as a food source when they are offered.
Which Birds Eat Pecans?
In addition to the larger nut-eating birds like crows and blue jays, other birds that will often gladly eat pecans include cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers.
Are Pecans Good for Birds?
We have learned above that many birds do eat pecans, and seem to enjoy them, but are they beneficial to their health? The good news is that these nuts are indeed a nutritious part of a bird’s diet.
A pecan nut is 4% water, 72% fat, 9% protein, and 14% carbohydrates. The high-fat content makes these a great addition to a bird’s daily diet, especially in the fall and during the winter months when many birds need to build up their fat reserves and daily food intake.
Pecans are also a great source of other nutrients, including minerals such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, as well as B vitamins, iron, and more.
However, like any supplemental food, pecans, and other nuts should only ever be provided in moderation. Remember that like us, birds need to have a wide range of food in their diet to remain in optimal health.
Can Birds Eat Pecan Shells?
Most birds cannot pierce through pecan shells and so these should be shelled before they are offered to birds in a bird feeder, or at a bird table or other feeding station. Birds feeding from pecans on trees will only do so once they have broken open.
Can Birds Eat Roasted/ Salted Pecans?
While fresh, raw pecans can be an excellent source of food for birds, you should not feed the birds in your garden with pecans that have been prepared with salt or have salt added.
Many roasted pecans for human consumption are soaked in salt water before roasting, so while roasted pecans could be fine if made plain at home, commercially roasted ones with salt content should not be provided to your feathered friends.
Can Birds Eat Glazed/Coated Pecans?
It is also important not to feed birds with pecans that have been glazed with chocolate, or coated with other things. Salt can be an issue, but there may also be other ingredients that won’t be great for the health of the birds.
Can Birds Eat Pecan Butter?
If you blend pecans into a butter yourself at home, without adding any other ingredients, this can be another way to feed pecans to birds and allow them to benefit from the fats and other nutrients they contain.
Again, if salt, sugar, or other ingredients have been added, this won’t be very good for the birds and so should ideally not be provided when feeding birds in your garden.
How To Provide Pecans for Birds
Planting trees is always a wonderful thing. As the common saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is today! So by far, the best way to provide pecans for birds to eat is to plant a pecan tree.
Of course, a pecan tree will eventually provide high yields for you and your family, with plenty to share with birds and other wildlife. This will also bolster the environment and health of future generations.
Remember, planting trees, especially native trees, can be great not only for providing food for birds and other wildlife but also for providing habitat and shelter for a range of creatures.
Planting Pecans for Birds
The pecan’s natural range is in the Southern region of North America, mainly along the Mississippi River Valley. However, pecans can grow in many places in the US as long as they fall within USDA hardiness zones 5-9. Specific varietals are also available for zones 9-11.
Production potential drops significantly when planted further north than Tennessee, but hardier pecans are now grown even as far north as southern Canada. Some cold-hardier cultivars for more northerly growers include Carlson 3, Devore, Gibson, Mullahy, and Voiles 2.
Pecan trees are large deciduous trees that grow up to 20-40m in height, with a spread of around 12-23m. They can be useful shade trees. They can do well in deep, moisture-retentive loam soil in a sunny and sheltered position. The trees typically begin to yield from around 20 years old and the seeds ripen late in the fall.
As well as growing pecans to provide food for yourself and garden birds, you might also consider growing other related trees for their nuts. Pecans are a species of hickory, and there are also plenty of other native hickories to consider growing in your garden.
Pignut hickory, shellbark hickory, and shagbark hickory are just a few examples to consider. Even in USDA hardiness zones 4 and below, you can find beneficial nut trees to grow in your garden as a food source for you and your many garden birds.
Selecting a species native to your region could be a great choice for you and your family, and for the wildlife, including birds, that shares your space.
Serving Pecans to Birds at a Bird Table or Bird Feeder
Of course, even if you do not have the space or ability to grow pecan trees on your property, you might still want to feed pecans to birds in your garden.
If buying pecans, it is best to choose natural pecans to buy that have been grown locally, as close to home as possible. Since locally grown foods are the most sustainable choices you can make when feeding yourself, and when feeding backyard birds.
If you cannot grow nuts at home, it is always best to think about choosing nuts to buy that grow in your vicinity, rather than importing exotic nuts from further afield.
You can simply scatter nuts whole, or add them to a feeder alongside other nuts and seeds. Crushing the nuts, as mentioned above, will make them available to more birds that you might see in your garden.
Remember, nuts and other fat and protein-rich foods are especially beneficial to birds during the late fall and through the coldest part of the year.