What Animals Eat Pine Cones?

Written by: Akeem Eletu
Last updated on:

Pine cones have a more specific job than just being an ornament on trees. They ensure that the pine tree seeds are safe and even protect them from winter’s freezing temperatures. They open up or close their “scales” super tight, depending on the environment’s temperature. 

While some animals prefer only the seeds, others care for the pine cone as a whole while it is green. They do not like it dried up. 

We’ll do a deep dive into which animals can eat pine cones in this article.

Be sure to stay put for the last animal, it might come as a surprise for some.

Can Animals Eat Pine Cones?

Yes, pinecones are something certain animals eat and enjoy as well. The general notion about pine cones is that they are not edible. However, among other animals, squirrels and rats do not share that opinion. Many animals will always pry into pinecones to snack on them.

Animals that eat pine cones include deer, woodpeckers, chipmunks, rats, chickadees, nuthatches, raccoons, squirrels, black bears, and finches. 

Animals That Eat Pine Cones

There are a lot of animals that would go after pine cones when they see some. They include:

Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are unique and strong birds that can open a pinecone to feast on the seeds inside. Woodpeckers possess sharp beaks that help them cut through the hard surface. The pinecone is no different as a woodpecker will break it open easily.

Also, it is not uncommon to see a woodpecker hit a pinecone into the crevice of a branch before proceeding to peck into the cone. It does this for a perfect grip on the cone. Woodpeckers do an excellent job drilling fast into the hard external surface of pinecones to feast on the seeds.

Anytime you see a broken pinecone lying fallow at the foot of the tree, it is safe to deduce that a woodpecker has performed its magic and moved on to the next thing on its agenda.

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Squirrels

Squirrels are naughty animals that love nutty seeds. They derive pleasure in eating and gathering nuts for fun. Sometimes, they bury the nuts in the soil during the autumn when food is abundant. 

Nuts like acorns, chestnuts, and pines are some of the nuts they gather to eat and store for the tough times. 

Squirrels chew on pinecones the same way we eat corn on the cob. They will bite and eat the scales to get through to the prize within the cone – the seeds.

Often, they will break and open the cone from the bottom to the top to reach the seeds. But they can only do this with dry pine cones. In most cases, squirrels don’t eat their prize immediately. Since they are born hoarders, they will gather the pines and store them to eat later.

Black Bears

You can’t go wrong with Black bears when thinking about what animals eat pine cones. Black bears forage around pine trees. 

The seeds interest them, but they are not well-skilled in opening the pods. Instead, they raid the stash of squirrels’ detached seeds and eat them all.

Raccoons

Raccoons are omnivores and scavengers that eat just about anything, including pine cone seeds. Usually, you find raccoons in abandoned chimneys, storm drains, and other similar places. They are best at climbing and usually search for food at the top of coniferous trees. 

Raccoons have sharp claws, making it easy for them to climb trees easily and break open the hard outer case of pinecones to become accessible to the goodies inside.

Nuthatches

Nuthatches are birds with sharp beaks and love for pine cone seeds. If you’ve ever come across one, you will notice that finding and collecting seeds is something they like to do. They love seeds so much and have sunflowers as their favorite.

With their sharp beaks, nuthatches can break a pinecone pod by repeatedly poking or tapping on it. They get the seeds once the pod breaks open. Nuthatches have the habit of storing seeds in the crevice of trees because of their great love for them.

Deer

Deer are herbivores that feast on pine cones and pine needles. Deer, especially the whitetail deer, will eat pine cones and pine needles when food is scarce. Deer opt for pinecones, especially during winter, because of the absence of appropriate foliage. They will eat almost anything to survive the winter.

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Chickadees

Mountain chickadees are birds that love pine cones. They use their feet and beak to open the cone to access the seeds. They live in the mountain areas where food is scarce, so they make do with whatever they see. When in season, chickadees depend on pine cones but move on to the next available food.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks love to eat nuts. Nuts they like include chestnuts, acorns, and other nutty seeds. Since pinecones have edible seeds within, they have become one of their favorites. Chipmunks possess very sharp teeth that help them open the pine cone for easy access to the seeds.

For chipmunks, ripe pine cones are not the only option. They also break open the green cones to access the seeds there. 

Another impressive trait about chipmunks is their storage habit. Most times, the seeds in the pine cones they open with their teeth are not eaten immediately. They are often stored in tree hollows (their habitat) in preparation for winter, when food is usually scarce.

Rats

Rats’ teeth grow all through their life. Hence, eat everything and anything they see to trim or file their teeth. The rugged exterior of pine cones serves as the perfect tool to help a rat file down its teeth. Also, the seed inside the pod interests them. This way, they can kill two birds with a stone.

Finches

The general finch is a unique bird with a big beak that loves eating fresh seeds, and the pinecones seed is no exception. With their solid beaks and tongue, Finches can open pinecone pods in no time. Then, it uses its tongue to extract the seeds from the pod.

Final Thoughts

Pine trees produce pine cones. The pine cones that fall on the ground are the female pine cones. The female pine cones are responsible for protecting the seeds beneath a hardened shell. Underneath those hard shells are mushy and edible seeds that serve as foods for a long list of animals. 

So when thinking about what animals eat pine cones, this article is sure to help you get some vivid examples right away. 

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