The Scoop on Sunflower Seeds (#1 Most Versatile Bird Food!)

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 superfood!

 

Today, we are going to be answering the following questions:

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.

 

There are 52 distinct species of sunflowers and even more cultivars of those. They come in all colors and sizes! There are many popular varieties that you can grow no matter what type of garden you have.

 

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. 

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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 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

types of bird seed - black-oil sunflower

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Black-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 for most birds.

 

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

 

Black-oil sunflower seeds are usually best 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!

 

B. Striped Sunflower

birdseed types - striped sunflower

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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

 

Striped sunflower seeds are large, so they’re best in tray feeders like this one, which can be hung, mounted on a pole, or sit on the ground.

 

C. Hulled Sunflower

Hulled sunflower seed - best birdseed types

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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!

 

You can use hulled sunflower in nearly every type of bird feeder! Trays, tube feeders like this one, and hoppers are all excellent for feeding hulled sunflower.

 


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 feeder bird that WON’T eat sunflower seeds!

 

The types 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, and grackles.

 

B. Striped sunflower seeds:

Click PLAY above to watch Northern Cardinals eating 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, grosbeaks, Carolina Wrens, goldfinches, finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, juncos, sparrows, towhees, blackbirds, doves, grackles, and many more!

 


Where can you buy sunflower seeds?

 

Luckily, sunflower seeds are readily available. When you look at buying this bird food, you must decide whether you want to buy them locally at a store or online.

 

There are benefits and drawbacks to each!

 

#1. Your local hardware or bird feeding store:

 

If you have the time, going to a physical store to buy your sunflower seeds will save you money. The cost to ship heavy bags of seeds is usually passed on to the customer, so a retail store that’s buying seeds in bulk will have a price advantage!

 

The other great thing about going to a local store for your bird seed is you can support a local business in your area. The weekly trip to my local hardware store to pick up birdseed is just a part of my routine now, so it doesn’t feel like an inconvenience at all. 

 

#2. Online:

 

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.

 

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!

4 responses to “The Scoop on Sunflower Seeds (#1 Most Versatile Bird Food!)”

  1. Ann says:

    I have 2 feeders and have been reading your articles. I usually put a mixture from the grocery store or walmart in my feeders. I read in one of your articles that sun flower seeds are usually a big hit will all the birds (I have titmouse, cardinals, lesser finches, various sparrows, and of course doves). So, I added more sunflower seeds to my mixture. I have seed catchers under my feeders and the birds love to sit in there and eat the seeds too. BUT I notice there are a lot of unopened black sunflower seeds in the seed catchers. I’m wondering if they don’t like the black so very well. Any suggestions? However, the seed doesn’t go to waste. I dump it on the ground and the deer and squirrels clean it up pretty fast.

  2. Fins says:

    I use both black oil sunflower and hulled seeds along with the Safflower seeds. Doves, House sparrows, Purple finches, Northern Cardinal, Goldfinches and chickadees love those. Surprisingly goldfinches loves them more than their thistle seeds😀!!

  3. Don Shopland says:

    When I first got a feeder some years ago, I asked a birder friend of mine what type of feed and he recommended black oil sunflower seed and I used that for many years — the biggest problem as you pointed out is the mess left behind. That said, about 4 months ago I was in my local Costco store and saw a 40 lb bag of seed that appeared to have about 20-25% black oil and some other seed for $24.99 and thought I would try it out because the cost of black oil seed had at both my local suppliers (Lowes and Tractor Supply) had skyrocketed to $35 for a 20 lb bag. The birds went for the Costco stuff more than my 100% black oil sunflower seed. I put out two feeders, one filled with black oil sunflower and the other the Costco mixture, and then switched feeders just to make sure it wasn’t an access issue. They still preferred the Costco mixture. The Costco seed is produced by the National Audubon Society and contains 4 different seeds, black oil sunflower, white proso millet, chipped sunflower seed, peanuts, and safflower seed. I’m not sure of the proportions of each and don’t recall seeing it on the bag.,but as I said it appears about 20% or more is black oil, and peanuts are the least plentiful, so I’m assuming the rest is the millet, chipped sunflower and safflower. The nutrition info says: 13% protein (minimum), crude fat 25% (min), crude fiber 25% (max).

  4. Steve Spaccarelli says:

    I use all of the above but the price of birdseed is ridiculous, on top of gas and food prices.

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