Sunflower seeds are hands-down my FAVORITE bird food.
They attract a huge variety of birds, and surprisingly, there are THREE ways you can buy them. So, no matter your experience level or what kinds of birds you want to attract, you can’t go wrong with this bird feeder powerhouse!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about sunflower seeds!
What are sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds come from the large, daisy-like flower Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower. It’s one of the most recognizable flowers on the planet because of its beauty and height. Common sunflowers can grow up to 6ft. (1.8m) tall! Although they’re native to North America, they grow abundantly in temperate regions worldwide.
Typically, sunflowers bloom in late summer and early fall. Its vibrant yellow color and large flowers make this plant one of the most popular garden annuals in its growing range. Interestingly, the head of a sunflower isn’t a single flower at all, but many tiny flowers that grow into a large disc shape. This large shape helps attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
The seeds of the sunflower plant grow in a spiral-shaped pattern in the middle of the flower disc. Once they’re mature, the seeds are harvested for use in oil production, food, and of course, bird feeding!
What kinds of birds eat sunflower seeds?
One of the main reasons I love to use sunflower seeds in my yard is because they attract so many different types of birds. It’s difficult to find a bird (other than birds of prey) that WON’T eat sunflower seeds!
Which type of sunflower seeds you use will determine what types of birds you attract.
A. Black-oil sunflower seeds:
As we previously discussed, these seeds are small, and their soft, thin shells are easy to break open. As a result, a WIDE variety of species enjoy feasting on black-oil sunflower in the shell.
Birds attracted to black-oil sunflower: Northern Cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, grosbeaks, finches, nutcrackers, juncos, House Sparrows, blackbirds, doves, & grackles.
B. Striped sunflower seeds:
This food has a thicker shell than black-oil sunflower seeds, making it tougher to crack open to get to the seed. Because of this, I like to use striped sunflower in my backyard when I try to deter certain birds.
For example, House Sparrows and European Starlings can be incredibly numerous at bird feeders, but luckily, they can’t open striped sunflower seeds! If you dedicate a feeder to striped sunflower, then the cardinals, jays, titmice, nuthatches, and other birds that can open the hard shell have a more peaceful place to eat. It’s also great to add to a general bird seed mix.
Birds attracted to striped sunflower: Northern Cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, grackles, nutcrackers.
C. Hulled sunflower seeds:
These seeds are the MOST popular option for attracting as many types of birds as possible. Since there’s no shell to worry about, almost any bird that visits feeders will be happy with hulled sunflower seeds. As a result, my feeders containing hulled sunflower have to be refilled just about every day.
Birds attracted to hulled sunflower: Northern Cardinals, jays, grosbreaks, Carolina Wrens, goldfinches, finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, juncos, sparrows, towhees, blackbirds, doves, grackles, and many more!
What are the different types of sunflower seeds?
Believe it or not, there are three varieties of sunflower available for feeding birds, and each type has different advantages and uses.
A. Black-oil Sunflower
Oil sunflower is the most popular type of seed in the shell. Almost every type of bird will devour it! You will commonly see large bags of black-oil sunflower sold in stores.
I find it interesting that this variety of sunflower isn’t the kind that humans consume. It was developed to harvest for its oil content, but then it was discovered how much birds love the stuff!
Black-oil sunflower has a higher oil content and is less expensive when compared to striped sunflower (B) below. Their shells are also thinner and smaller, making them easier to crack open and make less mess than striped sunflower seeds.
The only complaint I have with black-oil sunflower seeds is the huge mess the shells can make!
Nutrition Information: 40% fat, 16% protein, 20% carbohydrates
B. Striped Sunflower
Striped sunflower seeds are the type that humans buy and consume. They are larger than black-oil sunflower seeds and also have a thicker, hard shell. In addition, they are generally more expensive by weight.
Nutrition Information: 26% fat, 15% protein, 18% carbohydrates
C. Hulled Sunflower
Hulled sunflower refers to seeds that have already had the shell removed. Other common names include sunflower chips or kernels.
Hulled sunflower is more expensive by weight than sunflower still in the husk. But you have to consider that when you buy black-oil or striped sunflower, the shells won’t be eaten, so you are paying for this waste.
Hulled sunflower is also popular because it doesn’t make a mess. There are no shells left to clean up!
How should you use sunflower seeds?
The best thing about sunflower seeds is the variety of ways you can use them.
- Striped sunflower seeds are large, so they’re best in tray feeders or large fly-through feeders. This tray feeder is versatile, can be hung or mounted, and would be a great feeder for striped sunflower seeds!
- Black-oil sunflower seeds can usually be used in a hopper-style feeder, as well as a tray or dish. I highly recommend the Absolute II hopper-style feeder. Its weight-sensitive perches keep larger birds from hogging all the seeds!
- You can use hulled sunflower in nearly every type of bird feeder! Trays, tube feeders, and hoppers are excellent for feeding hulled sunflower.
Where can you buy sunflower seeds?
There are benefits to each type of sunflower seed, so ultimately, what you buy will depend on your preference. However, here are the pros and cons of some common sunflower seed types for sale:
#1. In birdseed mixes:
Often, sunflower seeds are one of the ingredients in a mixed bag of birdseed. Since so many different birds love sunflower seeds, there’s a great chance these mixes will attract birds.
Whether the mix contains striped, black-oil, or hulled sunflower is a matter of your preference. However, you should pay close attention to what else is in the bag. For more helpful tips on bird seed mixes, take a look at this article:
My local hardware store also sells a “wildlife blend” that includes striped sunflower, corn kernels, and whole peanuts. I use this blend in a ground feeder away from my main feeder setup to keep squirrels and deer from eating all the birds’ food!
#2. As a stand-alone seed:
Most hardware stores, pet stores, and specialty bird feeding stores will have different types of sunflower seed for sale. Buying bags of sunflower seeds and then creating your own mix is often more cost-effective than buying a pre-mixed bag. I often do this when buying food for my feeding station!
With single-type seeds, you know exactly what you’re paying for! To decide which kind you should buy, think about the types of birds you want to attract or deter.
For example, if you want to see lots of Northern Cardinals and keep starlings away, you might need black-oil sunflower. But, if you have smaller birds in your area, you may do better with hulled sunflower.
Keep in mind you may pay more per bag for hulled sunflower, but you aren’t paying for shells, so it usually evens out.
Buying sunflower seeds online is the most convenient way to purchase them. Unfortunately, since birdseed is so heavy, the cost is usually double or even triple what it would be in a local store. For example, a 50-lb bag of black-oil seeds at my local hardware store is $27, versus this 25-lb bag on amazon which is more than double the price for half the seed!
The bottom line is you will find the best prices in your local store, but if convenience is what you’re after, online is the way to go!
What’s your favorite thing about using sunflower seeds?
Tell us in the comments!