Sunflower seeds are one of the most common types of bird food you will come across as they are enjoyed by a wide variety of birds, easily available, and a great way to attract more birds to your garden.

From health to the best way to feed birds, in this blog, we answer some common questions about sunflower seeds for birds.

Do Birds Like Sunflower Seeds?

a goldfinch on a bird feeder full of sunflower heartsThat would be a big yes! pretty much all garden variety birds will eat sunflowers seeds – from tits to collared doves.

Although most birds will take sunflower seeds, different species will have preferences (i.e. chips, hearts, black sunflower seeds) and some birds don’t have strong enough beaks to eat sunflower seeds with shells (the type with stripes – black sunflower seeds have a shell, but it is softer than the striped ones)

Are Sunflower Seeds Good For Birds?

Yes! In addition to enjoying sunflower seeds, birds benefit from eating the seeds as they are one of the most nutritious food sources for wild birds.

Sunflower seeds are packed with fat and protein – vital for keeping birds at a healthy weight, especially in winter. The seeds also contain vitamins such as the essential vitamin B, and minerals such as calcium which is needed for a variety of reasons including beak health.

Although different birds will have different health/diet requirements, all species need to eat a balanced diet. That means they need variety in food types and need to eat the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins – much like we do!

For an extra nutrition burst, birds can be fed black sunflower seeds which have a higher concentration of oils and fats. They are also often described as being ‘meatier’ than the other type of seed.

What Kind Of Sunflower Seeds Do Birds Like Best?

Although most birds like sunflower seeds, you will notice sunflower hearts are taken first – this is because they are the easiest to eat.

Let’s look at the different variety of sunflower seed available for birds:

Striped sunflower seeds – striped seeds are the entire seed, including the shell and come from the sunflower plant (Helianthus). Although striped seeds have been offered as seed for years and other animals eat them, they’re the least preferred type of seed for garden birds. For one, they’re tougher for birds to open – birds won’t eat the seed husk and want to get to the ‘heart’ of the seed. Discarded shells around bird feeders can look unsightly and attract pests too.

Black sunflower seeds – black sunflower seeds come from the black oilseed varieties of the sunflower which are cultivated specifically for their seeds (they’re also used in the production of sunflower oil). They are great for birds because the higher levels of oil they contain have more calorific value. Although black sunflower seeds have a husk, they are much softer than striped seeds, enabling birds to open them with ease. Discarded husks will still be visible around your feeding station but not as much as with striped seeds.

a sunflower which is the source of bird sunflower seeds

Sunflower hearts – sunflower hearts are an ideal choice for wild birds as they are just the ‘inside’ part of the sunflower seed. They can come from either striped or black sunflower seeds but usually come from the black variety as they have a higher nutritional value. Because they are ready to eat and don’t need the husk removing, birds prefer to eat them and don’t waste energy having to open husks. This also helps smaller bird species or birds that have softer beaks and struggle to open husks.

Sunflower heart chips – chipped sunflower hearts are exactly what they sound like – tiny, chipped pieces of sunflower heart! Because sunflower heart chips are smaller, they are more appealing to birds with small or softer beaks. They make an ideal feed in spring and early summer as their small size makes them easy food for fledgelings.

How Should Sunflower Seeds Be Fed?

Black sunflower seeds, hearts and heart chips are very versatile seeds – they can be mixed with other types of seed and served from a bird feeder, left on a bird table, or left on the ground for birds that prefer to feed low.

Because sunflower hearts are popular with ‘greedy’ bigger birds, if they are left on a table they may disappear quickly. To avoid this and give smaller bird species a change, the mixed feeder method is recommended as large birds such as doves don’t often try to take food from feeders.

Are Sunflowers Seeds Bad For Birds?

Sunflower seeds are not bad for any type of wild bird. They’re one of the best types of food you can provide for our feathered friends.

However, just like humans and other animals, birds need to eat a balanced diet – its never a good idea to provide just one type of food. Carrots are good for you and me, but if you only ate carrots for a month you wouldn’t feel great!

Birds need a variety of foods so sunflower seeds should be provided alongside other varieties of bird feed such as Nyjer seed, peanuts, suet pellets and more. You should also remember to provide water with all bird foods – birds need access to clean water all year round to drink and bathe.

It is also important to buy your sunflower seeds from a reputable supplier that provide guaranteed quality bird feed. Old, low-grade seed can be contaminated or spoiled, making it either lacking in nutrition or potentially lethal in the case of contaminated seed. Birds need to eat clean, quality foods, just like we do.