Let’s Go Nuts

Let’s Go Nuts

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Consider the humble nut. Not often considered as such, a nut is actually a fruit consisting of a hard shell protecting a softer, usually edible, kernel within. Nuts are packed with energy and are a nutrient-rich food source for thousands of species, including our own, and of course, the birds. On October 22nd, join us in celebrating National Nut Day and make sure you have some around for your avian allies.

National Nut Day is the brainchild of a UK business called Liberation Foods Company, in an effort to promote the unparalleled goodness one can get from consuming nuts. Citing the need for healthier snack options, the company was also keen to impress that their nuts were not only sustainably grown, but also that the farmers growing them, whether in Malawi, Brazil, India, El Salvador or any other Third World countries, are all paid under the Fair-Trade ethos, via a collective under Liberation Foods’ umbrella.

Although the idea for the day started in the UK, National Nut Day is now very popular throughout the world, particularly in the US.

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It's highly likely that the planners of the original idea didn’t have birds in mind when they came up with it, but nonetheless they have unwittingly chosen a time of year that is crucial to birds’ wellbeing: peak migration, and just before the world enters a potentially harsh winter in the northern hemisphere, or as breeding season kicks off in the southern.

Both times put enormous strain on birds’ energy levels, and having access to the most nutritious foods is a literal life saver, every day.

For humans, just one serving of walnuts can provide 100% of your daily omega 3 requirements, and one serving of chestnuts caters for a fifth of your daily vitamin C intake. Evidence of early humans devising nut cracking tools using rocks and a hard place to get to the goodness inside has been unearthed, tracing our endeavors back some 800,000 years ago.

The Greeks and the Romans believed walnuts were a gift from the gods, and walnuts were a highly sought-after item used to trade with. English walnuts reached American shores in California on Spanish ships in the 18thcentury, courtesy of Franciscan monks.

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Oh the nutty health

Their health benefits are phenomenal: all nuts contain high levels of fats (unsaturated, the good kind), protein, dietary minerals, and vitamins and one of the few easily accessible sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Eating nuts is thought to contribute to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, reduced levels of blood cholesterol, and keep mortality rates low among those who eat them as part of their regular diet.

Now that you know what you can get out of a nut, apply that nutrition to the world’s birds.

Thousands of species, many of them woodland ones, eat nuts as part of their specific diet. Common birds that you’ll see in your garden or yard like finches, tits, sparrows, robins, thrushes, woodpeckers, magpies, jays, chickadees, wrens, grackles and nuthatches all chow down on nutty goodness whenever they can, and after the summer months, there are flowering plants and trees practically throwing their fruits at the ground for all to feast on.

Courtesy of Ashutosh, Pixahive

Birds get many things from nuts: the fats help keep their feathers and skin healthy, and the nutrients and minerals boost brain activity and keep birds on their toes, watchful for predators, and help injuries heal and keep inflammation down in injuries. And, of course, the calories provide that much-needed energy to fuel practically everything a bird does.

Nuts are not only an excellent food source for instant eating, they are also very robust and long-lasting, and can keep for months, even years, under the right conditions. Many woodland birds like jays and titmice will “cache” them, hoard them away in hidden cavities or dig them into the ground for safe-keeping.

It is thought that jays can remember up to 3,000 exact locations of their stored snacks; one study followed 50 blue jays who planted 150,000 nuts at a rate of on average 1000 a day over 28 days.

Plus, there is the added bonus of any they miss simply germinating and taking root, providing a new nut-bearing plant for others to use in the future, both as food and as a nesting site or to take cover from predators. The benefits of nuts go on even after they are forgotten about.

Courtesy of Mario Mendez, Unsplash

There are many different types of nuts that you can provide for the birds, including acorns, almonds, beechnuts, Brazil nuts, Hickory nuts, Macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, and considered by many to be the king of nuts and also known as “brain food”, walnuts.

Nut no-nos

But do bear in mind that you can’t just provide any old nut: anything that has been packaged for human consumption is highly likely to have been seasoned or coated in some way, and too much salt and other additives can be lethal to birds.

It should go without saying that any sweets, cakes, biscuits or cookies with nuts in them are a definite no-no on account of the unhealthy nature of the food, but we’ve said it anyway, just in case. Only ever provide nuts that have been processed for animals, or straight from the plant.

Courtesy of David Spiess, Unsplash

Putting out a variety of nut types in or on your feeders during the colder months is a fantastic thing to do for birds, and were they capable of doing so, they would thank you daily.

Cold seasons put severe stress on food resources, so supplementary feeding really comes into its own in winter, but better yet is to plant native bushes and trees that will bear these fruits as part of their natural life cycle.

Making your home a wildlife friendly habitat and offering up a diverse buffet will keep your garden birds and any other feathered visitors healthy, happy, and alive, making it through another winter to breeding season and the ongoing wonder of life.

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