NATURE RAMBLINGS: A giant jar of peanut butter

PHOTO BY SALLY ROTH Our old cat, checking out a fresh batch of supplies.

Sally Roth


Sometimes I just can’t help being a mom. Even though my kids are grown, I still worry.

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“Got your ‘go bag’ ready?” I asked my son, oh so casually, when he visited during the holidays.

“You mean, like, earthquake supplies?” He lives in the shaky Pacific Northwest, where the Big One could happen any day—or not at all for the next 100 years. “Um, no, not really,” he admitted. “But I do have a giant jar of peanut butter!”

We both laughed, because (1) I’d gotten my point across, and (2) that’s been my motherly advice to my kids ever since they were little. “Always keep a giant jar of peanut butter on hand! You never know when it’ll come in handy.”

My husband and I made deep inroads on our own emergency jar during the big flood back in 2013, when the road to town washed out and we were stuck at home for weeks.

Odd—ever since, I haven’t had a craving for a peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter crackers or even a finger-swipe of peanut butter from a freshly opened jar. Can’t imagine why.

Still, I keep the pantry stocked with this staple, counting my wealth like Midas when I look at all the lined-up jars. Peanut butter is just as good at nourishing birds as it is at feeding people.

Years ago, lots of people believed that peanut butter would kill birds. They believed their throats would get glued shut, and the myth spread like wildfire. Two house finches found dead at a feeder with peanut butter still in their mouths cemented the notion.

That sounded fishy to me right from the start. I’ve been feeding birds peanut butter for 50 years, and never once have I seen birds having great difficulty eating it, let alone die from it. They take tiny bites. (And if you feed them chunky style, they pick out the bits of nuts first.)

Still, I thought, maybe I’d missed it; perhaps the birds went off and died elsewhere.

But a second red flag still waved. House finches? I’d never seen a house finch show the least bit of interest in peanut butter.

Chickadees, jays, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers, some wrens, bluebirds — all avid peanut butter eaters. Even mockingbirds, gray catbirds, or, at former homes, a brown thrasher on occasion. Juncos and some native sparrows for sure, once I spread it on the bottom of the feeder post, where these ground-foragers could reach it. Not to mention starlings, who will gladly gobble it up any time they can get at it.

Even a crow learned to scrape peanut butter off our simple rough-board “feeder.”


But house finches? Nope, never. Like English (house) sparrows, goldfinches, purple and Cassin’s finches, and grosbeaks, they simply weren’t interested in the stuff.

What the heck was going on?

Circumstantial evidence, that’s what. A necropsy on those birds at Cornell University showed that they had died from disease, not peanut butter. Apparently, they were already weak and sick, so they turned to the easiest food at the feeder—peanut butter—instead of the seeds they would normally crack.

If you’re feeding birds, add a jar of peanut butter to your repertoire. It’s a top favorite for many winter bird friends, and it provides plenty of vital fat and protein when cold sets in and natural food is scarce.

As research in Canada has shown, our feeders can mean the difference between life and death in winter. No need to worry about birds becoming so dependent on feeders that they lose the ability to forage in the wild—that’s another myth.

Mister Hairy Woodpecker, left, teaches Junior how to eat peanut butter.

If you’re still thinking peanut butter might be dangerous, just mix it half-and-half with coarse cornmeal. No chance of swallowing a too-big glob then.

Got your winter bird-feeding supplies ready? A handout in hard times can be a lifesaver. And a giant jar of peanut butter goes a long way in a survival kit.